A Merrifield deer farm that's repeatedly tested positive for chronic wasting disease is now closed following the euthanization of its herd.
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health announced Wednesday, April 17, the "depopulation" of deer from the 112-acre Trophy Woods Ranch, which was first known to be infected by CWD in 2016 and has since registered numerous positive tests. The board is coordinating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to collect tissue samples from the herd for CWD testing and stated in a news release it will report results as soon as they become available.
"We anticipate receiving CWD testing results from the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory within the coming weeks," stated Board of Animal Health Assistant Director, Dr. Linda Glaser, in the release. "We've already developed a herd plan with the owner on how to handle the property now that the deer are gone. At this point, any CWD positive results do not change our disease response, because we already know the site held CWD positive deer and have been treating it as such."
CWD is a disease of the deer and elk family caused by an abnormally shaped protein called a prion, 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. 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.
This Crow Wing County deer herd was the only CWD positive farm in the state operating under a herd plan with live animals. As of this depopulation, all CWD positive deer farms in the state are empty.
Following depopulation, the sites are managed in accordance with the USDA and Board of Animal Health-approved herd plan. The board continues mandatory CWD monitoring in all other farmed deer and elk herds and reported no CWD positive detections as of Wednesday.
The USDA is providing indemnity to the owner Kevin Schmidt for the animals as part of its overall disease control effort. Schmidt was unable to be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
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-postive, CWD-exposed or CWD-suspect animal is 95% of the appraised value, with a limit of $3,000 per animal.
To qualify, a livestock owner must have legally owned the livestock on the day the animals died or were injured by an eligible loss condition, and livestock must have been maintained commercially as part of a farming operation.
CWD in Crow Wing County
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-wide meetings and action from the USDA and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Beginning March 17, wildlife disease specialists from the USDA took to the woods near the Mission Lake Wildlife Management Area, searching for deer to test for the disease.
The 10-day surveillance and collection project covered a 2-mile radius surrounding the area where the infected doe was found in January. Of the 66 deer shot during the project, 55 tests came back negative, and 11 were still pending as of early April.
The Minnesota DNR also provided property owners with more than 10 acres of land unlimited hunting permits between March 2 and March 24. Four landowners shot 14 deer, 10 of which tested negative for CWD, with the remaining four pending.
Update: This story was updated to reflect accurate information on the indemity payments for livestock with CWD.