Two dairies in Texas and two in Kansas have tested positive for the virus.

Krissa Welshans, Livestock Editor

March 25, 2024

4 Min Read
istock/ thinkstock

A mysterious disease circulating in dairy cows located in the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, and Kansas has been baffling the agriculture industry, but no more. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced he received confirmation from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that the mystery disease has been identified as a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). USDA said affected dairy cows do not appear to be transmitting the virus to other cattle within the same herd.

According to USDA, as of March 25, unpasteurized, clinical samples of milk from sick cattle collected from two dairy farms in Kansas and one in Texas, as well as an oropharyngeal swab from another dairy in Texas, have tested positive for the virus. Additional testing was initiated on March 22 and over the weekend because farms have also reported finding deceased wild birds on their properties. Based on findings from Texas, the detections appear to have been introduced by wild birds.

New Mexico had also reported dairy cows with similar symptoms, but those cases have not been confirmed as HPAI at this time.  

USDA said federal and state agencies are moving quickly to conduct additional testing for HPAI, as well as viral genome sequencing, to better understand the situation, including characterization of the HPAI strain or strains associated with these detections.

Related:Enhanced biosecurity urged over mystery outbreak on dairies

“This presents yet another hurdle for our agriculture sector in the Texas Panhandle,” Commissioner Miller emphasized. “Protecting Texas producers and the safety of our food supply chain is my top priority. The Texas Department of Agriculture will use every resource available to maintain the high standards of quality and safety that define Texas agriculture.”

The Texas dairy industry contributes roughly $50 billion in economic activity across the state and also ranks fourth in milk production nationwide.

Miller assured consumers that rigorous safety measures and pasteurization protocols ensure that dairy products remain unaffected by HPAI. The Texas dairy industry maintains strict standards to ensure the safety of every product.

“There is no threat to the public, and there will be no supply shortages,” Miller said. “No contaminated milk is known to have entered the food chain; it has all been dumped. In the rare event that some affected milk enters the food chain, the pasteurization process will kill the virus.”

Cattle impacted by HPAI are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, including fever and thick and discolored milk, accompanied by a sharp reduction in milk production averaging between 10-30 pounds per cow throughout the herd. Economic impacts to facilities are ongoing as herds that are greatly impacted may lose up to 40% of their milk production for 7-10 days until symptoms subside.

Related:Goat in Minnesota tests positive for avian flu

It is vital that dairy facilities nationwide practice heightened biosecurity measures to mitigate further spread, the Texas Department of Agriculture said.

The National Dairy FARM Program (NDFP) offers several valuable biosecurity resources to provide dairy farmers with tools to keep their cattle and dairy businesses safe, including:

Additional biosecurity practices guidance is available here.

Dairy farmers who observe clinical signs in their herd consistent with this outbreak, such as a significant loss of appetite and rumination by the animal or an acute drop in milk production, should immediately contact their veterinarian. Veterinarians who observe these clinical signs and have ruled out other diagnoses on a client’s farm should contact the state veterinarian and plan to submit a complete set of samples to be tested at a diagnostic laboratory.

“Unlike affected poultry, I foresee there will be no need to depopulate dairy herds,” Miller said. “Cattle are expected to fully recover. The Texas Department of Agriculture is committed to providing unwavering support to our dairy industry.”

Just last week, the first U.S. case of HPAI in a ruminant was confirmed in a goat in Minnesota.

While HPAI has not been detected in beef cattle, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is encouraging cattle producers to implement enhanced biosecurity measures on their farms and ranches to help protect their herds. Information on animal health protocols and developing an effective biosecurity plan can be found at www.bqa.org. Producers can also visit usda.gov for resources on how to manage wildlife to limit exposure to HPAI.

About the Author(s)

Krissa Welshans

Livestock Editor

Krissa Welshans grew up on a crop farm and cow-calf operation in Marlette, Michigan. Welshans earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Michigan State University and master’s degree in public policy from New England College. She and her husband Brock run a show cattle operation in Henrietta, Texas, where they reside with their son, Wynn.

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