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7 deer test positive for CWD at Merrifield deer farm

Captive whitetail deer group together Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in a penned-in enclosure on Trophy Woods Ranch, northeast of Merrifield, Minn., and west of Upper Mission Lake. The deer were euthanized in April and seven tested positive for chronic wasting disease. Gabriel Lagarde / Forum News Service

MERRIFIELD, Minn. — Seven deer originating from a deer farm in Merrifield tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health reported Wednesday, May 8.

The board received CWD test results from the “depopulation” of 112-acre Trophy Woods Ranch, which was first known to be infected by CWD in 2016 and has since registered numerous positive tests. On April 16, 102 deer were euthanized. All viable samples were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory for CWD testing. Seven tested positive for CWD, 82 deer showed no CWD and in 13 cases, the tests were either unsuccessful or the animal was too decomposed.

“We appreciate the cooperation of the herd owner and the collaboration of the other state and federal partners we’ve worked with to depopulate this farm and get these CWD test results,” said Board Assistant Director Dr. Linda Glaser in a news release. “The results give us a clearer picture of the disease prevalence on the farm as we continue our efforts to contain and eliminate any remaining infectious CWD prions in the enclosed property.”

CWD is a disease of the deer and elk family caused by prions, which can damage brain and nerve tissue. The disease is most likely transmitted when infected deer and elk shed prions in saliva, feces, urine, and other fluids or tissues. Prions are abnormally shaped proteins, which are very resistant to traditional disinfection treatments like heat and chemicals. CWD is not known to naturally occur in other animals. The disease is fatal in deer and elk, and there are no known treatments or vaccines. Consuming infected meat is not advised.

A January discovery of a CWD-positive wild deer carcass near Upper Mission Lake sparked countywide controversy, as the finding was the first case of a wild deer with CWD in Crow Wing County and discovered in close proximity to Trophy Woods Ranch.

The infected whitetail deer, which was confirmed to have CWD in February, was never linked to the Merrifield ranch but did trigger community meetings and action from the USDA and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Depopulation is currently the best available management option to control CWD in deer or elk herds, the Board of Animal Health release stated. After a herd is euthanized there is still a risk of environmental contamination. The land will remain fenced and no farmed deer or elk may be housed on the site for a period of at least five years to reduce the risk of the disease being spread off the site.

CWD testing is part of many mandatory measures placed upon Minnesota’s farmed cervid herds to monitor and control this disease. Current testing procedures require samples taken from the brain and lymph nodes of the animal, and there are no live-animal sampling procedures at this time.

The USDA provided compensation for the euthanized animals to Trophy Woods Ranch owner Kevin Schmidt. A 2014 bill authorized the USDA Farm Service Agency's Livestock Indemnity Program, which provides monetary benefits to livestock owners for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality rates due to certain adverse weather conditions, disease or attack. Subject to available funding, the amount of the federal payment for any CWD-positive, CWD-exposed or CWD-suspect animal is 95% of the appraised value, with a limit of $3,000 per animal.

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