Last month, I followed the news story of a mystery illness that was later identified as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) detected for the first time ever in dairy cattle. I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the collaboration that took place from the farm level to a national scale in addressing this animal health issue.

Lee karen
Managing Editor / Progressive Dairy

To start, we wouldn’t know what we know today if it weren’t for the milkers and herdsmen on the Texas farms that identified and flagged cows showing symptoms of a sudden loss of appetite, drop in milk production and having odd-discolored milk, to name a few. Their watchful eyes, concern for cattle under their care and encouragement to say something when they see something sparked a reaction our industry hasn’t seen in some time.

They involved their local veterinarians, who were the first to connect the dots as they could see these same symptoms developing on more than one farm. These veterinarians sought additional diagnostic resources at the state level and were communicating with the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), which began sharing information with its member veterinary practitioners.

Once alerted, the Texas Animal Health Commission started an epidemiological study to develop a case definition. This included the affected cows as well as the seemingly healthy cows in the same herd and known activities on the farms. Samples were collected and analyzed by local laboratories and the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratories in both Canyon and College Station. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was also notified and began working on the case.

The farms and animals were monitored and evaluated. Whatever was willing to be shared from herd records and on-farm interviews was collected and analyzed. Information that could have seemed irrelevant was still gathered, as it could be the piece that unlocked it all. It happens that reports of deceased birds found on some of the farms were the key to prompt the samples to be tested for avian influenza.


While these tests were being conducted in Texas, as well as nearby in New Mexico and Kansas where symptoms were also identified, news and information was being shared nationwide. State veterinarians were informed and, in turn, shared it with local veterinarians in their own states to encourage everyone to watch out for similar symptoms and enhance biosecurity measures on the farm.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), a trade association that represents dairy cooperatives and dairy farmers in the federal arena, was coordinating with the USDA on animal health and the FDA on milk safety. Ensuring that abnormal milk was discarded at the farm and consumers in the U.S. and abroad could maintain confidence in our milk supply was as important for the affected farms as it is for farms across the country. They also shared animal care and biosecurity resources developed with the National Dairy FARM Program.

It may have started with one cow, one milker, one milk production or rumination report, one herd, one veterinarian, but it was in the connecting of the dots and the collaboration of an industry that led to answers, a diagnosis and the protection of herd health and a safe milk supply for all.

The list of individuals and organizations involved is extensive, and I’m sure I’ve missed some. These are people you don't see every day on the dairy and some you may not even think of being involved in farming, but this experience shows how they are all an integral part of our industry’s animal care team.