Weekly livestock news for January 13: avian flu, ASF, new tech

Researchers look for IBDV-avian flu link

A $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help a team of researchers examine how infectious bursal disease virus affects the transmission of influenza A virus in chickens, the American Veterinary Medical Association reports. The $1,025,000 award will be shared among researchers at the University of Minnesota, University of Oxford, and the Pirbright Institute. Infectious bursal disease virus weakens the immune system in chickens. Researchers suspect IBDV may be a key player in the spread of avian influenza, prolonging the period during which birds can shed viruses into their environment and reducing vaccine efficacy, according to the announcement. IBDV has been identified in wild bird species in Europe, and since birds are natural hosts for avian influenza, it’s likely wild birds with both IBDV and avian influenza will be better at spreading the viruses to domestic poultry. The study is investigating the genetic code of IBDV and how differences in that code change the way the viruses move, according to the AVMA.

Poland reports 12K birds dead in avian flu outbreak

Poland has reported an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in a flock of commercial turkeys. According to a report on the World Organisation for Animal Health website, 12,089 turkeys died at a farm in the Lublin region in the eastern part of the country, bordering Belarus and the Ukraine. Samples from five dead turkeys tested positive for a highly pathogenic form of H5N8 avian influenza. The source of the infection hasn’t been determined. This is the first case of the H5N8 strain since 2017, WattAgNet reports.

African swine fever spreads near German border

Poland reported 55 outbreaks of African swine fever in wild boar near the German border last month, indicating the virus is spreading closer to Germany, one of the European Union’s biggest pork exporters, the World Organisation for Animal Health said. A report posted on the organization’s website showed the disease had now been found in a village less than 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from Germany. Germany’s government in early December said it was stepping up protections to prevent an ASF outbreak. According to Reuters, there are fears in Germany that its pork exports to China and other Asian countries could be threatened, since import bans are often imposed on pig meat from regions where ASF has been discovered. Authorities in German states bordering Poland have built fences in an effort to stop wild boars wandering into Germany. The state of Saxony said it’s building a 4.5 kilometer electrified fence along a high-risk sector close to the Polish border.

Accelerated MRI technology could help identify chick sex before hatching

A tech company is trying to use accelerated MRI technology to identify chick sex before hatching. Male chicks are of little use to the egg industry and about 6 billion male layer chicks are culled each year, creating animal welfare and economic concerns, according to WattAgNet. But currently, a chick’s sex can only be identified after hatching. The MRI approach at Orbem.ai uses the technology to examine the organ development of embryos to detect physical differences between males and females. Artificial intelligence then classifies the eggs by sex. “MRI is a good technology to look into stuff without touching them. It’s a contactless technology,” said Pedro Gomez, cofounder of Orbem.ai.

Farmers more optimistic about the future than the present, ag barometer shows

Farmers last month were less optimistic about the current agricultural economy than they were in November, according to the Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer. The barometer is based on a mid-month survey of 400 U.S. crop and livestock producers. While sentiment toward current conditions dropped 12 points, the overall reading on the barometer was nearly unchanged in December, Feedstuffs reports, dropping three points from November to a reading of 150. Attitudes toward future conditions remained strong, up two points in December to a reading of 155. In the December survey, producers were asked whether their farm’s 2019 financial performance was better, as expected or worse than their initial budget projections. Fifty-two percent said their financial performance matched their projections, 30% said it was worse and 19% said it was better.

USDA employee morale declines, survey finds

U.S. Department of Agriculture employees are less happy with their workplace following the relocation in the fall of the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Missouri, new data shows. The “Office of Personnel Management Survey” showed a decline in employee engagement at USDA, Feedstuffs reports. “The drastic drop in morale and significant staff turnover at ERS and NIFA are indicative of how the department’s ill-conceived decision to uproot employees out of their jobs and move them to Kansas City will impact research critical to farmers and policymakers,” said U.S. Representative Marcia L. Fudge. While Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the department has continued to make accommodations for employees, the recent morale survey found that other branches of USDA also saw negative shifts in employee attitudes, including the Office of Civil Rights, the Foreign Agricultural Service and the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Still, other parts of the department saw modest increases in employee enthusiasm.