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New Mexico State University

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NMSU Scientist Explains New Scrapie Eradication Guidelines

LAS CRUCES - Ranchers involved in New Mexico's new disease eradication for scrapie in sheep and goats must place orders for federally mandated identification tags about two months before they'll be needed, a livestock specialist with New Mexico State University said.

NMSU livestock specialists say producers involved in New Mexico's new disease eradication for scrapie in sheep and goats should place orders for required identification tags about two months before they'll be needed. Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. (05/30/2002) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Norman Martin)

Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. New regulations require that the animals be tagged before they are moved, allowing them to be traced back to their point of origin, a key element in the successful eradication of the disease, said Clay Mathis with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service in Las Cruces.

Last year, the state produced more than 230,000 sheep and lambs, and 20,000 goats, according to the New Mexico Agricultural Statistics Service.

Lately, increased concern has been paid to brain-wasting diseases like scrapie. However, Mathis stressed that there is no scientific evidence that scrapie poses any risk to human health. The disease entered the United States in 1947 with sheep imported from England.

Researchers have found that controlling the disease is complicated because it has an incubation period generally between two and five years for animals exposed at birth, and even longer for animals exposed post-weaning. Scrapie is thought to be spread most commonly in animals through contact with fluids associated with the animal's birth.

There is no treatment for scrapie, Mathis said. Prevention hinges on identifying and eliminating infected animals.

Animals that need federal scrapie identification tags include all breeding sheep moving in interstate commerce regardless of age, all sheep over 18 months of age moving in interstate commerce, and all sheep and goats for exhibition other than castrated males. In addition, Mathis said, all scrapie-exposed, suspect, test-positive and high-risk animals need identification tags, as well as breeding goats moving in interstate commerce, except for low-risk commercial goats.

"Scrapie identification tags must include a premise identification number," Mathis said. "If you have a registered New Mexico sheep brand, then the premise identification for your sheep is the brand number preceded by NM. For example, if your sheep brand number is S1234, then the premise identification number on the scrapie tags for your sheep is NMS1234."

Producers who do not have a sheep brand registered in New Mexico can apply with the New Mexico Livestock Board at (505) 841-6161. Once producers have a premise identification number, they can call the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Veterinary Services Office at (505) 761-3160 to order their scrapie tags, Mathis said.

In addition to tagging animals, owners must maintain records for five years on all animals that are tagged, he said. Records must include the premise identification number, date applied and number of animals identified.

Mathis stressed that not all sheep and goats have to be identified in the new system. Exceptions are sheep under 18 months of age moving into slaughter channels and all goats moving into slaughter channels. In addition, low-risk commercial goats not included in the tagging program are those raised for fiber and/or meat, not registered with a breed association and not exhibited in shows. The goats must not have been in contact with sheep; be scrapie positive, high-risk or scrapie-exposed; or come from an infected herd.

The regulations also do not require animals moving for grazing purposes with no change of ownership or castrated males for exhibition to be identified with scrapie tag.

"For most producers the best time to tag sheep and goats is just before the animals leave the premises," Mathis said. "This minimizes problems with lost tags." County Extension agents, high school agriculture teachers and veterinarians may request and apply tags, he said. However, the person requesting and applying tags is responsible for maintaining records for five years on each animal tagged.

Separately, Mathis pointed out that within New Mexico, commercial whiteface, whiteface cross or hair sheep that haven't been exposed to female blackface sheep may be transported using their registered New Mexico brand without a federal scrapie tag. "However, if sheep are being moved out of state, producers should check with the state of destination before moving sheep using the New Mexico brand alone," he said.

For more detailed information about scrapie and scrapie eradication, see www.animalagriculture.org/scrapie.