Sequim FFA loses prize cow to disease

The prize cow was so new,

Sequim's FFA students hadn't had a chance to properly name her.

"Momma Cow," a 21/2-year-old prize black Angus heifer and Best in Show winner at the 2008 Puyallup Fair, was among the 20 cows to die of malignant catarrhal fever, a rare, usually fatal disease, at the fair's dairy barn in September.

The disease is not a threat to humans but often is fatal when found in cattle.

Derrell Sharp, Sequim High School's agriculture science department head and FFA advisor, said the school had invested at least $4,000 in the heifer and was planning to make her the backbone of Sequim High School's new cattle herd.

"Momma Cow" was four months pregnant when she and her unborn calf died.

Sharp said that within days of getting "Momma Cow" to the fair, she separated herself from other animals in the pasture.

"Usually when cows separate themselves, there's something going on," Sharp said.

Within hours, the cow started showing symptoms of the disease. Corrine Dennis, Sharp's aide at the high school, was at the fair and keeping the teacher apprised of the cow's condition.

Despite shots of antibiotics from the veterinarian, "Momma Cow" couldn't stand up and had a 104-degree temperature, Sharp said.

"She died right in front of my eyes," he said.

A total of 16 of the affected cattle were owned by FFA students; three were fair demonstration animals.

Malignant catarrhal fever, a disease that does not affect humans according to the state Department of Health, is caused by two different herpes viruses, one found in wildebeests and the other in sheep.

Sheep are thought to be the hosts in this case, state officials said.

Though cattle may get the disease from such hosts, they do not pass the disease to other cattle or humans.

Sequim had three other animals at the state fair; none of

them contracted the fever.

"You have to keep track of your animals (at fairs)," Dennis said. "You never think you're going to lose your animal. When she got sick, she just went down. It was terrible."

The high school's agriculture department bought "Momma Cow" from Chuck and Julie Boggs' West Brook Angus in November 2007 and had the cow boarded and bred there.

"We were counting on having

a calf out of her," Dennis said. "She was going to be a breeding project for one of the (students)."

Sharp said he was switching the school's herd to Angus cattle because Sequim High's Hereford cattle were struggling with diseases.

Sharp said he's hoping to get some financial help from FFA alumni associations. He said he'd likely go back to West Brook Angus for a replacement cow if there were enough money.

The outbreak of malignant catarrhal fever spurred an investigation by the state veterinarian Leonard Eldridge, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington State University Animal Disease Research Unit and fair officials.

They say there is no vaccine or treatment available to prevent malignant catarrhal fever. The disease can affect other animals including deer, bison, water buffalo and pigs. The fever is common in Africa and Indonesia, although during one recent U.S. outbreak about half of a herd of bison - about 800 animals - died.

The disease is difficult to control because the incubation period in hosts can be as long as 20 months.

Fair officials noted that Eldridge and his team are developing biosecurity practices to lower the risk of spreading the fever.

Michael Dashiell can be reached at: miked@sequim

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