Wisconsin native tapped as new state veterinarian

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Darlene Konkle

A native of Outagamie County is the Wisconsin's newest State Veterinarian. Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection appointed Darlene Konkle who has served as the acting State Veterinarian since June 2018.

Konkle has been with the department’s Division of Animal Health since 2005, first serving as an education and outreach veterinarian in the Johne’s disease program. She became the veterinary emergency program manager in 2007, developing disease control methods and training to reduce threats to the state’s livestock sector.

Konkle says protecting the livestock industry against the threat of a foreign or emerging disease is among her top priorities.

"If diseases like African Swine Fever or Foot and Mouth disease were to enter the U.S., they could potentially devastate our livestock population," she said. "Those are the things we're always preparing for. Of course, it is our job to safeguard public health by preventing and responding to those animal diseases that may also impact humans.”

Konkle was on the front line of defense when the highly pathogenic avian influenza began moving towards Wisconsin back in 2015. And with Wisconsin located along the Mississippi Flyway, one of the most heavily used migration corridors in the U.S., she knew it was only a matter of time until the disease entered the state.

"We were watching (the progress of) the outbreak pretty closely, and when Minnesota was affected we began getting information out to poultry producers to be on the lookout," she said.

State and federal officials worked in concert with poultry farmers to stem the spread of the disease that ultimately caused the destruction of nearly 2 million birds in Wisconsin. Since then, Konkle says the state has worked with livestock operations to boost biosecurity measures to help limit the spread and impact of animal disease.

Sgt. Parminder Singh and Spc. Lacy Taylor, both Soldiers with the Hartford, Wis.-based 457th Chemical Company, decontaminate a vehicle leaving a poultry farm in Lake Mills, Wis., April 29, 2015. The Wisconsin National Guard that was called to state active duty to assist the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in its response to Avian Flu outbreaks at several sites across the state.

"The whole industry is more aware of what it takes in terms of biosecurity to keep a disease like that off of their premises," Konkle said.

During her time as acting State Veterinarian, she has served as Wisconsin’s chief animal health official. Her tenure included overseeing the response to a case of bovine tuberculosis in a Wisconsin dairy herd in Dane County. The source of the outbreak was traced to an employee at the dairy.

"(Human transmission to animals) was something we had seen happen in other states so we knew it was potentially a risk in this case," she said. "It's something we want the livestock industry and the public to be aware of as well."

Protecting the state's herds and flocks is more challenging than ever. she says.

"The livestock industry is changing so rapidly. There's larger farms with more interstate movement of cattle and swine," she said. "It's important to maintain the industry, but it offers us some challenges as animal health officials trying to protect that industry."

In her quest to help protect the state's livestock industry as well as the general public, Konkle says that awareness is key.

Wisconsin State Veterinarian Darlene Konkle says livestock producers need to remain vigilant and look at best practices for biosecurity on their operations through training, spot checks and audits.

"Look at your where your animals are coming from. Is it a good source and are the animals tested before purchase?" she said. "Above all, we always need to stay vigilant and look at best practices for biosecurity on our farms through training, spot checks and audits."

Pfaff said Konkle’s understanding of national and international animal movement and her experience in animal disease response is vital to protecting Wisconsin agriculture.

“I have been deeply impressed with Dr. Konkle’s work, her knowledge of Wisconsin’s animal agriculture industry, and her broad experience in private practice, academia, and regulatory medicine,” Pfaff said in a news release. “She is a consensus builder, developing relationships with her colleagues in federal and state agencies, as well as with groups representing our agricultural and small animal constituencies."