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Wyoming a leader on scrapie eradication

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – While scrapie is no longer a disease of economic significance in the state, Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) Executive Vice President Bryce Reece says efforts to eradicate the disease have provided the footwork for an individual identification program. Wyoming has been a leader in the nation on this particular effort.
    “Because of its relationship to BSE and the public’s perception of that,” says Reece, “it’s a disease we have to eradicate.” Scrapie is a degenerative illness in the same family of diseases as BSE in cattle and Chronic Wasting Disease in wildlife. Despite their similarity, the diseases are specific in the species they affect. The name scrapie resulted from the tendency of infected sheep to rub and scrape the wool from their bodies.USDA, according to Reece, has set a goal of eradicating scrapie from the U.S. by 2010.
    Reece says diseases like bluetongue are far more costly. Scrapie, however, is a disease he says has resulted in the industry’s inability to tap some markets.
    “Because early on we cleaned up the majority of flocks that had it,” says Assistant Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan, “it’s not a huge problem in Wyoming anymore. We still do occasionally find a flock.” He says about five Wyoming flocks have been found to have the disease in about the last decade. Of those most recently discovered he notes, “They have been traces from other states or imported sheep that were found.”
    Wyoming’s import regulations do require that black-faced sheep, which have shown a greater tendency toward scrapie, coming into the state for breeding must be genetically tested for susceptibility. If they aren’t genetically resistant Logan says they must then be tested via the third eyelid test. Funds were previously available to cover the costs of such testing, but this year the Wyoming Livestock Board discontinued it’s working agreement with the federal government for such funds.  
    “If people want to bring in black-faced sheep that aren’t resistant they now have to cover their own testing costs,” says Logan. The genetic testing runs about $14, he says, and the third eyelid test, if warranted, is an additional cost.
    While entire herds were formerly depopulated when the disease was found, Logan says additional knowledge has allowed the industry to escape that measure. “Using genetic testing we’re able to save the sheep that are genetically protected against the disease.”
    Of the program created to better monitor the disease and facilitate trace backs, Reece says tags are provided to the industry much like orange bangs tags are provided to cattle producers. “There are some recordkeeping requirements and producers have to keep records for five years, but I don’t get phone calls from producers saying we need to end this program.” Reece adds, “It’s proven effective for trace backs.”
    Reece says the scrapie program is far simpler than some of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) ideas put forth. “The biggest area of weakness, or vulnerability, is when tags are lost.” After 10 years in the program Reece says the USDA hasn’t yet done a much-needed tag retention study.
    Additional information on scrapie can be found on-line at Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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