Deer gather on Sept. 7, 2015, at Fairchild Whitetail deer farm near Fairchild. A new state regulation requires deer farm operators to improve fencing at those properties.

Preliminary tests show 23 deer that were part of a captive deer herd near Fairchild tested positive for chronic wasting disease, a figure that could grow as animal health officials continue their work.

A team of state and federal veterinarians and animal health technicians this week killed the entire captive deer herd at the farm about five miles north of Fairchild. A total of 228 deer — 163 adults and 65 fawns — were killed in a process that began Monday and ended at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

The heads were removed from all the adult deer and were tested for CWD at the deer farm owned by Rick Vojtik. The number of CWD cases could grow because it does not include the deer killed and tested Wednesday.

CWD was detected in a 7-year-old doe at the farm in June. 

All preliminary positive tests for CWD are now being sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for confirmation. Results from the Iowa lab are not expected until next week. 

The deer were killed through a combination of lethal injection and sharpshooting, according to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

DATCP announced its intention to kill and test every deer in the herd following the confirmation of the CWD-positive deer in June. But a lack of money to reimburse the owner of the deer herd caused delays in killing them.

Meanwhile, DATCP announced Wednesday that two additional deer tested positive for CWD — in September and October — after the doe’s diagnosis was confirmed in June.

These animals died accidentally and did not appear to be sick, said Dr. Paul McGraw, the state veterinarian. However, those animals tested positive for CWD.

DATCP had hoped that federal money would be available to compensate Vojtik when the new federal budget was passed Oct. 1. But the new budget did not have funding for the deer, McGraw said. At that point, DATCP decided to move ahead, using state money to compensate Vojtik.

DATCP officials said they don’t yet know what the payment for the deer herd will be. Each deer in the herd is currently being assessed for its worth, said Bill Cosh, DATCP communications director.

The state can pay up to $1,500 per animal, according to McGraw.

In a previous interview Vojtik placed the value of his herd at more than $1 million, although he said he did not expect to receive that much in compensation.

McGraw said it’s unknown how Vojtik’s herd received CWD. Vojtik bought several deer two years ago from another captive herd, but that herd had been monitored for five years and was considered CWD-free.

“There is a lot of opportunity for (the disease) to be moving, whether it’s in feed or hay bales or fecal material. We have no idea how it got there,” McGraw said.

Disposal process

Carcasses testing positive for CWD were transported in a double-lined truck to an anaerobic digester, while carcasses from negative animals will be dumped in a landfill. 

Staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture assisted in the killing and testing of the deer. DATCP cooperated with USDA researchers to collect samples from deer before they were euthanasized to help develop a live animal test for CWD.

Such a test may have an impact on the way CWD is managed in the future, officials said. Currently deer must be killed before testing for CWD.

One buck from the farm has been loose since the spring, when a falling tree knocked down a portion of fence.

State Department of Natural Resources officials are asking deer hunters who see a buck with a plastic ear tag in the Fairchild area to shoot it. Hunters do not need to use their buck tag to shoot a deer that has escaped from a deer farm, said Bill Hogseth, DNR wildlife manager for Eau Claire and Chippewa counties.

Contact: 715 830 5835, joe.knight@ecpc.com. Country Today newspaper Editor Jim Massey contributed to this report.