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Department of Livestock Keeps Improving Disease Preparedness

The Montana Department of Livestock recently completed a training exercise to improve response to a foreign animal disease in a Montana swine herd.

The four-day event was conducted in partnership with the National Pork Board and the Montana Pork Producers Association and involved a simulated detection of African Swine Fever (ASF); a swine disease that has recently been detected in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Traditional methods of disease control such as quarantine, vaccination, and early marketing are insufficient to control ASF, where large numbers of swine will die of the disease. To prevent further disease spread, large numbers of animals may need to be disposed of after being humanely euthanized.

“Rapidly stamping out infections of ASF remains our most potent weapon”, stated Michael Honeycutt, Executive Officer of the Board of Livestock. “To mitigate the impacts to the Nation, it is critical to rapidly detect any introduction of ASF into the United States and effectively contain the disease.”

The exercise allowed participants to observe novel depopulation techniques to improve on established methods of euthanasia such as anesthetic overdose, gunshot, or captive bolt which are difficult to use for large numbers of animals. Once animals are euthanized, carcasses remain infective and, therefore must be disposed of in a manner to contain or inactivate the ASF virus.

The training also included mental health assessments because large scale depopulation and disposal activities can have significant mental health impacts on animal owners and responders. Ideal methods of depopulation are humane, effective for large groups of animals, and minimize mental health impacts.

“We hope Montana never has to experience a devastating foreign animal disease like ASF but preserving the welfare of our employees is a critical component of a successful response,” added Honeycutt.

The training is one of five exercises sponsored by the National Pork Board. Montana was also fortunate to have participation from Montana State University Extension, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services, and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. The Department also acknowledges the key roles of Thomas Wurtz, DVM, and the Montana swine producer who hosted the exercise on their facility and offered up time, resources, and equipment vital to make the exercise a success.

African Swine Fever is viral disease of swine associated with high mortality rates in domestic swine. The disease is highly contagious with no available vaccination or treatment. In addition to spread through direct swine-to-swine contact, the virus can also survive for extended periods of time in improperly cooked pork products. The long survivability of the virus increases the risk of disease introduction into the United States by travelers who may visit areas of the world where ASF is present.

Since 2018, ASF has been spreading throughout much of China and Asia. In July 2021, the disease was confirmed in the western hemisphere in the Dominican Republic, and then in Haiti in September 2021.  The presence of the disease so close to the United States warrants increased prevention and preparedness efforts.

The mission of the Montana Department of Livestock is to control and eradicate animal diseases, prevent the transmission of animal diseases to humans, and to protect the livestock industry from theft and predatory animals. For more information on the Montana Department of Livestock, visit