AR-News: Mad cow scare traps U.S. calves in Canada
wolfcrest at hotmail.com
Wed Sep 24 16:51:17 EDT 2003
Mad cow scare traps U.S. calves in Canada
By MIKE LEWIS
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
LOOMIS -- The bawling began with the weaning, and the weaning began last
Cows do that, cattle rancher Howard Asmussen explained, when calves first
are separated from their mothers and placed in separate pens on the ranch.
They bellow back and forth -- endless baritone complaints -- as if the world
Joshua Trujillo / P-I
With his horse Lucky, rancher Howard Asmussen works some calves on his
ranch in Loomis. He's looking to the calves to help save his ranch after
selling his herd at a loss this year because of the mad cow scare in Canada.
For first time in a lifetime of running cattle, Asmussen, 70, knows the
Whipsawed between international borders, trade policy, lousy timing and age,
the man who built one of the largest cattle outfits in the Northeast
Cascades is facing his toughest, and perhaps his last, winter as a rancher.
The threat isn't harsh weather, sick cows, roller-coaster markets or
predatory mountain lions.
One month ago, Asmussen effectively lost an entire herd of healthy prime
yearlings, $1 million worth, to a disease that terrifies an industry even as
it sounds like a Saturday morning children's cartoon: mad cow.
And he did so without a single infected animal.
His situation has governments, ranchers and politicians in two countries
offering sympathy but little else.
It has Canadian feedlots suffering as they lose American business. It has
the U.S. Department of Agriculture rewriting its rules, and it has left
Asmussen with fading faith in a job and country he loves.
"The fact is I got screwed, and everyone said their hands were tied," he
said while sitting in his ranch house office in the rugged, remote
Sinlahekin Valley, 15 miles south of the Canadian border. "You try to do
everything right and look what happens."
According to interviews with Asmussen, cattle industry representatives,
politicians and health officials, what happened is this:
In January and February, Asmussen, as he's done for the past 10 years, moved
1,100 head of 11-month-old Black Angus calves 15 miles across the border to
a feedlot for finishing. Finishing is a final stage of fattening before
cattle taken from the range are sold for butchering.
After four months of finishing, Bill Freding, owner of the Southern Plus
feedlot in Osoyoos, B.C., called Asmussen to tell his longtime friend the
cattle were ready to come home for sale. He'd heard that a day earlier, May
20, U.S. officials had announced a ban on Canadian cattle after a cow in
Alberta tested positive for mad cow disease.
Asmussen was excited about the sale. Prices were good and his cattle had
graded high, meaning they would get a top price and keep the ranch finances
well ahead of the bills. Well past retirement for most professions, he had
hoped for a good score this year so he could start easing out of the
On the lot Freding wasn't too worried, since these were American cattle, fed
American feed. The bulk of the herds on his 7,000-head lot were from
American ranchers across the border.
But when Freding called U.S. officials to move the cattle back to the
States, he received a shock.
"They said the border was closed," he recalled.
"They said the ban affected all cattle in Canada regardless of origin."
He called Asmussen. "We've got a problem."
...for more of this sob story on the poor rancher who can't sell "his" cows:
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