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Cornell dairy herd health expert says avian flu impact on cattle should be minor

Cows graze at the dairy farm.
WAER File Photo
Cows graze at the dairy farm.

Dairy farmers and others in Central New York and across upstate are closely watching the news of the avian flu infecting cattle and other ruminant animals. As of now, there are no reported cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI in New York. But dairy herd health specialist at Cornell University Dr. Robert Lynch says farmers will be monitoring their cattle for symptoms.

“They stopped eating, they stopped ruminating. There's a sudden decrease in their milk production.”

Lynch is also a veterinarian. He says the good news is the virus usually doesn’t infect an entire herd, is not fatal, and is only temporary.

“These cows virtually all recover from the illness it usually takes about two to three weeks for them to get back and going again," Lynch said. "And when a farm does have these cases show up on their dairy, typically about 10% of the of the cow herd ends up picking up the infection.”

Lynch says consumers should also be reassured that milk produced by sick cows will not go to market.

"Obviously, when cows present with these kinds of symptoms, these sick cattle, their milk is diverted and not included in the salable milk.," Lynch said. "Also, all interstate milk that's offered for sale goes through pasteurization. Standardized, heating of of this milk is known to eliminate microorganisms like avian influenza."

He says farmers already have strong bio-security measures in place to minimize disease from entering and spreading among animals. But he says some might be taking extra measures.

“Because this is thought to primarily be spread by migrating wild birds, we do some strategies to minimize wild bird entry and contamination of things like water troughs and feed storage and those sorts of things to minimize that potential exposure.”

Lynch says other measures may include cleaning or disinfecting boots, using dedicated clothing, and limiting non-essential farm visitation.

Despite avian flu infections spreading to cows and now even some humans, the primary concern remains with the impact on chickens. The virus was found at a commercial poultry flock in Michigan, and an egg producer in Texas had to halt production and kill 1.6 million chickens after finding bird flu.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at