NADeFA Leads the Way in Stopping CWD

CANTON, Ohio — Managing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a fatal brain disease of deer and elk, is becoming more and more achievable with the help of deer and elk farmers and the North American Deer Farmers Association (NADeFA). For several years, NADeFA has supported research into developing live animal tests — utilizing samples collected during herd depopulations — and now these tests are being applied towards solving real world problems.

This spring, researchers from Midwestern University, Colorado State University, the Colorado State Department of Agriculture, and the United States Department of Agriculture were part of a unique study aimed at managing CWD in ranched elk in areas where the disease is common in wild deer and elk.

The project, headed by Dr. Nicholas Haley with Midwestern University, focused on using conventional and experimental tests for CWD to identify and remove infected animals from a large elk herd living on thousands of acres of fenced property. The study provided a wealth of samples that could provide for more sensitive tests than are currently available, but perhaps more importantly it has allowed insight into the genetic links between infection and disease resistance.

“I am time and again fascinated with the wealth of genetic data we’ve been able to collect,” says Dr. Haley. “Imagine being able to predict which animals may become infected next year, or identify branches of animals more resistant to disease than others, and ultimately using that information to manage the disease from purely an agricultural perspective.”

With the help of various collaborators, Dr. Haley has been able to examine the links between infection and a number of genetic markers found in elk known as microsatellites, using techniques commonly known as ‘DNA fingerprinting’ which assist in building a family tree for the ranch and may prove useful in any number of other species as well.

“None of this would have been possible without the support of NADeFA, says Dr. Haley. “This project has allowed the deer and elk farming industries to take ownership of CWD management and play a very prominent role in bringing it under control – I think the most important role.”

Dr. Haley explains that in areas where CWD is common, deer and elk farmers have the very realistic ability to manage their animals as only an agricultural producer can — by identifying desirable traits and selectively breeding for them. In this case, deer and elk farmers can selectively breed for a resistance to CWD.

“What would take Mother Nature thousands of years to do, deer and elk farmers can do in our lifetime,” suggests Dr. Haley.

Although the concept of managing CWD on-site through live animal testing and selective breeding is a relatively new one in the deer and elk farming arena, Dr. Haley hopes that this project will demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach, allowing future work to build off of the novel findings and ultimately stop CWD in its tracks.

Founded in 1983, the North American Deer Farmers Association is dedicated to the promotion of deer farming and ranching as an agricultural pursuit and serves its members through its educational programs and publications and by providing leadership in setting and maintaining quality standards. NADeFA represents the deer farming industry at all levels of government, and works closely with livestock producers and other organizations to promote ethical standards of conduct and husbandry in deer farming and to actively market standards for deer and deer products. NADeFA representatives are also available to media for expert testimony and information about deer farming and animal health issues, such as Chronic Wasting Disease, EHD and other topics.

For more information about NADeFA and membership, call 330.454.3944 or visit

Since 1983, the North American Deer Farmers Association (NADeFA) has worked to establish and promote deer farming as an agricultural pursuit and to facilitate education on breeding, handling and deer farm management. For more information on the North American Deer Farmers Association, call 330.454.3944 or visit