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Farm News & Views for the week of April 22, 2024

Last week, an article in Successful Farming Magazine caught my attention because I had reported about this outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza that had infected dairy herds in several states starting late in February of 2024.. At the time of my report, there were no details about how it was determined that HPAI had crossed from birds to cows, making thousands of the animals ill, and cutting milk production in at least eight states. A whole cadre of research scientists had been unable to determine what was causing the problem. It turns out the “who done it” was discovered by an observant and persistent Texas country veterinarian with help from Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory research scientist Dr. Drew Magstad. In March of this year, Dr. Barb Peterson was called to several dairy farms in the Texas Panhandle when whole herds of normally highly productive cows went off their feed, milk production declined, and the milk became abnormally thick. The initial diagnosis was directed at the cow’s feed, and Peterson had submitted samples of the feed to research laboratories that tested the samples for more than 200 potential causes of the mystery disease. But nothing had shown up in the tests that would cause the symptoms the cows presented. Then when a veterinarian colleague of Peterson’s told her that they had noticed that at the dairy farms where cows had become ill, the cats that usually came out when they arrived, were all gone. Then another dairyman who had sick cows told her that half of their cats had suddenly died. Since cats at dairy farms consume spilled milk, this shifted Peterson’s attention in another direction. When some of the dead cats were analyzed, it was determined that they had died from swollen brains, a potential result of influenza, and they didn’t have rabies. Peterson sent samples of the milk from those farms to Dr. Magstad, who had attended veterinary school with Peterson, and he tested the samples for influenza A, the most common virus that infects birds. They confirmed that the virus was of the type that has been driving the poultry HPAI outbreaks. So far, bird flu has been detected in 28 dairy cattle herds in eight states, and there is also evidence that the virus has been transmitted from cow-to-cow, an alarming revelation that heightens its threat, according to the USDA.

During a press briefing last week, House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson indicated that committee members were close to finalizing a new farm bill that should be agreeable to members of both parties. Thompson contends that new farm safety net program funding will not come from nutrition program cuts or repurposed Inflation Reduction Act funds, two of the key sticking points with Democrats. Democrats and Republicans have been locked in a deep impasse over key nutrition, climate and farm safety net funding in the bill for more than a year. But observers point out that unless Republicans can secure significant Democratic support, a farm bill isn’t going to pass on the House floor this year.

Since garden planting season is not far off, I’ll pass along some gardening tips that I came across in my research. They can be found online at this link:

Mark Twain wrote, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.