Area game farmers have voluntarily taken extra precautions to keep their animals healthy but with the onset of chronic wasting disease, state rules are even more stringent.
The disease, which was discovered in three wild Wisconsin bucks in February, attacks the brains of infected deer and elk and causes the animals to display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions and die.
Last week a CWD-positive deer was found on James Hirschboeck’s Walworth County game farm, bringing the total of CWD farmed deer to two in the state. The farm has been under quarantine since Sept. 20.
Baraboo game farmer Franklin Cook said he is not as concerned about his herd as he would be if he raised white tail deer. Cook has a herd of about 70 red deer hybrids. The disease has not been found in red deer.
DNR emergency rules, which puts restrictions on the movement of deer and elk from farm to farm and state to state, have not greatly effected his operations because he has a large enough stock to sustain the herd.
Cook sells venison from his deer under the Cook’s Farm, Farm-raised Venison label.
“Our sales have been better because our meat is state inspected,” he said.
Nontraditional deer and elk farms are licensed under the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Each game farm in the state had to get an identification number and if any animal dies it must be tested.
Cook is not worried about the disease making its way to his herd since red deer have not been infected and white tails and red deer simply don’t get along, he said. Captive animals are given shots and tests and have 8-foot fences to protect them from other animals, he said.
He recalls a tuberculosis scare in northern Wisconsin deer in the early 1990s.
“Everything was shut down,” Cook said. “We couldn’t move them (deer), we couldn’t do anything – they thought every deer was going to get it.
“Now we keep records on our herd and we test them. Soon they’ll come out with a live test (for CWD) or maybe a vaccination.”
Like most hunters, Tom Benoy is concerned about the wild deer herd and like many, he never dreamt the disease would make its way to Wisconsin.
“It’s a scary thing and it’s really caused a mess in Wisconsin,” he said.
Benoy worries more about the wild deer and elk than he does about his captive Rocky Mountain and Manitoban elk. Benoy owns the elk farm called Bugle Boys of Company B in rural Portage.
He started his game farm 5 years ago and since has worked closely with an area veterinarian and the Wisconsin Deer and Elk Association to keep his heard healthy. Benoy feeds the animals oats, corn and hay and stays away from any animal byproducts to prevent possible disease.
“I haven’t brought any other animals into the herd and I won’t,” he said. “I don’t even want to take that chance.”
When he bought his first elk he hoped to raise them for meat and sell the antlers, which are ground up and used in capsules for arthritis and hypertension medication in humans. Now he plans to turn his land into a hunting reserve in about 5 years.
That way, everything can be taken care of on site and he won’t have to worry about transporting live animals, he said.
The captive diseased animals in Wisconsin remain at two and the wild diseased deer numbers continue to rise.
Test results from the Aug. 10 to 16 landowner shooting period in western Dane county and eastern Iowa counties were released last week and nine of the 358 deer harvested tested positive for the disease. The additional nine brings the tally of known CWD cases to 40 in the wild deer herd, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
“We plan to test in the neighborhood of 40,000 to 50,000 deer statewide this fall taking 500 deer from most counties,” said Tom Hauge, director of the department’s Bureau of Wildlife Management. “This will be the most extensive deer testing program undertaken in the country and will allow us to say with confidence if the disease is or isn’t present in a county.”