After Farm Found to Have CWD, Deer Farmer Welcomes Chance to Combat Disease

October 30, 2017 12:42 AM

Minnesota deer hunters are eager for the opening of the firearm season the weekend of Nov. 4.

Due to chronic wasting disease -- the contagious disease affecting the brains of deer, elk and moose -- some hunters will notice changes. 


CWD has been found in the wild and on a handful of Minnesota's 421 deer and elk farms. The disease does not affect humans. Several state agencies are working on CWD right now, and they're taking different approaches.

RELATED: Tests Find No New CWD Cases on Minnesota Deer Farms

One of the deer farms at the center of the controversy spoke with KSTP.

Half-a-million people have purchased licenses to hunt deer in Minnesota this fall. Some pay even more to hunt for a huge buck on a preserve like the 112-acre Trophy Woods Ranch in Crow Wing County. The property has double-high fences to prevent deer on the farm from mingling with deer in the wild. 

Owner Kevin Schmidt is a deer hunter himself, a farmer and a scientist. He raises giant mule deer and whitetail deer. His star is a mule deer called Mass XL, the largest of its breed in captivity in North America.

What to know: Information about CWD in Minnesota

Managing Chronic Wasting Disease

Information from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on CWD management. Attention: Non-MDH link

Chronic Wasting Disease 

General information about CWD in Minnesota from the Minnesota Deer Hunter's Association. Attention: Non-MDH link

*courtesy Minnesota Department of Health

Preserve hunting is a small part of what happens on Schmidt's farm, but Schmidt said breeding is where the money is made.

Schmidt raises deer like some people raise thoroughbred race horses.

RELATED: Minnesota Deer Opener: More Deer but Mandatory CWD Testing

"In the case of the mule deer that is absolutely correct" Schmidt said. " A single straw of semen, depending on the situation, could sell anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000."

But Schmidt's business came to a halt right before Christmas.

"On Dec. 22 I got a call from the Board of Animal Health saying I had a suspect CWD test," he said.

He was shocked because deer farms are required to test every animal after it dies and CWD had never been detected on his farm.

"It was a big surprise, not only to us, but to the Board of Animal Health and the USDA," he said.

Last fall, CWD was also found at a deer farm in Meeker County that Schmidt had exchanged some deer with in 2014.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources,  it was also discovered for the first time in wild deer in Fillmore County. Thousands of deer were killed to try to contain and test for CWD. As a result, there is a statewide conversation going on in Minnesota about how CWD is impacting deer hunting and deer farming.

RELATED: Minnesota Restricts Deer Feeding amid Chronic Wasting Cases

The Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor recently started an audit of the Board of Animal Health to look for answers.

The Board is responsible for monitoring farmed deer and elk, while the DNR is responsible for wild deer and elk. CWD has been found on both sides of the fence, so the legislative auditor is looking at how healthy the relationship is between the two agencies.

Minnesota Deputy Legislative Auditor Judy Randall said the audit will also look into some of the science behind CWD and what other states are doing to handle it.

"I definitely want to see what other states are doing, because we are not alone in facing CWD," she said.

CWD was first discovered in Colorado in the late 1960s. It's now found in the wild and on farms in 21 states.    

The Board of Animal Health said it couldn't identify the two deer farms where CWD was found last fall. It does confirm the Meeker County farm was bought out by the USDA and depopulated.

Schmidt confirmed he's the other farmer, and he refused a buyout. Because of that, his deer farm is now quarantined for five years. 

The Board of Animal Health confirms there have been zero positive CWD results at Trophy Woods Ranch since the last test in December.    

Schmidt said he welcomes the audit and hopes they visit his farm.

"I don't see that this audit can even be done without involving me," he said. "I am the subject. I think it's important that it is going to define CWD and how we progress with CWD. It requires all three players: the USDA, the Board of Animal Health and the DNR."

The Minnesota DNR believes Chronic Wasting Disease is spread by the illegal movement of deer carcasses from infected areas, migrating, or by contact between deer in the wild and deer on farms.

The DNR is trying to contain the spread of CWD. Hunters in zones around the two farms where CWD was discovered are required to bring their deer in for testing on the upcoming first weekend of the firearm season. Hunters in southeastern Minnesota, where CWD was found in the wild, must bring deer in for testing all hunting season.

Also, the DNR has now banned feeding deer in parts of the 11 Minnesota counties where CWD has been discovered. The idea is to keep them from congregating and spreading CWD.



Kevin Doran

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