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Cattle farmers dealing with bird flu can receive assistance funds

A photo from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development showcasing dairy cattle lined up in free stalls with hay to graze on.
Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
A photo from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development showcasing dairy cattle lined up in free stalls with hay to graze on.

Michigan has just confirmed it's 26th cattle herd infected with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus, or bird flu, in Gratiot County. The state is currently one of 12 that has seen cattle hit by the virus, and it's also one of the states with the most cases in the country.

Since the first infected cow was discovered in March, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has been increasing testing and biosecurity measures to try and contain the spread of the virus.

Nearly two months after the initial outbreak in Michigan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released awritten statement announcing the expansion of its Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP). The program is known to provide emergency funding to producers of livestock, honeybees, and farm-raised fish that are affected heavily by disease, adverse weather, or other disasters.

The funding will be sent to farmers dealing with financial losses caused by lower milk production. Reduced milk production is a symptom cattle experience when infected with bird flu.

To be eligible to receive assistance, adult dairy cattle must meet specific criteria, such as:

  • They have to be part of a herd that tested positive for HPAI through the National Veterinary Services Laboratories,
  • Been removed from commercial milk production either 14 days before or 120 days after the test result,
  • Currently lactating, and
  • Maintained for commercial milk production.

Specific payment amounts will be calculated via a provided formula, and cows have to be producing 50% of their normal production rate within seven days of returning to milking to be eligible.

Currently, the virus has affected 11 counties in Michigan according toMDARD. A majority of these counties are located in central Michigan, but many are still taking precautions.

James Averill is the Associate Director of Michigan State University’s AgBioResearch centers. He said all of the university’s livestock farms, except for the horse farm, have been closed and undergoing biosecurity measures.

Averill said that MDARD requires biosecurity measures to remain in effect for 60 days after an infection is found. With the recent herd confirmed in Gratiot County, he said the security measures will be continuing into the fall semester and students will have to adhere to them as well.

“When all this came into effect, it was almost the end of the spring semester, so what we needed from students was very minimal,” he said. “As we get into the fall semester, we’ll still allow the teaching to take place, and we’ll make sure the students are following the appropriate biosecurity practices.”

Dairy educators for the university are also acutely aware of the issue. Cora Okkema is one of these educators, and she said the state responded “swiftly” to the problem and has since been working to provide guidance for those in the industry.

“From farm to table, the dairy industry and also the agriculture industry has acknowledged the presence of the disease and has been very transparent about that … and has remained diligent in protecting both human and animal health,” she said.

In regards to the opened ELAP applications for dairy farmers, Okkema said that farmers impacted should apply and contact their local USDA Farm Service Agency for support.

“When a cow drastically decreases her overall production or has milk that does not meet the quality standards … That certainly impacts a farmer’s bottom line,” she said. “When that happens across a significant percentage of the dairy herd, the farm’s economic viability then becomes a concern.”

Impacted farmers and residents who want to learn more about how Michigan is handling the virus can view the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s website.

Courtney Boyd is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at The Alpena News
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