Weekly livestock news: January 29, 2024

African swine fever threatens food source for millions as disease hits wild herds

Populations of wild pigs are crashing due to the spread of African swine fever, threatening the livelihoods of millions who depend on them for food, researchers warn. With a fatality rate of almost 100%, ASF has swept across Asia, Europe and Africa, devastating domestic and wild pig populations over the past 10 to 20 years. The impacts are especially significant in Borneo, in southeast Asia, where the loss of bearded pigs is having an enormous impact on cultures and communities that depend on them for food. Bearded pig numbers have declined between 90% and 100% since the virus arrived on the island in 2021, researchers said. They warned the disappearance of this key protein source may lead millions of local people to begin hunting endangered species such as pig-tailed macaques. The Guardian reports.

Senators urge U.S. officials to begin trade talks around bird flu vaccine

South Dakota Senators Mike Rounds and John Thune sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai asking for discussions to begin on an update to trade agreements, which would allow for potential use of a vaccine to treat highly pathogenic avian influenza, Dakota News Now reports. “We recognize that without updated trade agreements, the use of HPAI vaccination can put our poultry and egg industry at a disadvantage, so now is the time to begin the tedious work of talking with our trading partners to solidify agreements that reflect the new reality,” the letter said. “While we recognize trade considerations will impact any potential vaccine roll out, it is important for USDA to consider the needs of all producers and prioritize animal health.”

Beef industry players, conservation group work to save dwindling native grasslands

About 80% of native grasslands in Kansas are lost. To conserve what’s left, a new program backed by conservation groups and the beef industry hopes to work with ranchers to conserve and restore more land. Last year, The Nature Conservancy started the Southern High Plains Initiative, backed by big brands connected to beef like Burger King and Cargill, which each contributed $5 million. To date, the program has invested $42 million across five states to preserve or restore nearly 30 million acres of intact grasslands. The program is using market-based incentives to ranchers who will preserve grassland or convert crops back to grass. Agreements could last up to 15 years in some cases with annual payments of $45 per acre. But success will mean convincing ranchers in Kansas and elsewhere to get on board, KCUR reports.

Study shows promise for genetically modified pig organ transplants

After decades of experimenting with alternatives, many doctors now see potential in replacing failing human organs with genetically modified pig organs. Xenotransplantation, or cross-species organ transplantation, is still in the early stages. Although no human clinical trials are taking place that have been approved by the FDA, researchers behind a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation say their findings might bring human trials even closer, Pork Business reports. Doctors at the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine transplanted genetically modified pig kidneys into three people who were brain-dead and showed that they could do so using the same FDA-approved drugs used in human-to-human donations.

Washington state bill would allow ranchers to kill wolves that return after livestock attacks

Ranchers have long argued that Washington state laws should give them more flexibility and authority to kill wolves that threaten or attack livestock on their property. Now, new legislation would set up a three-year pilot program to allow owners of animals like cattle and sheep to kill a wolf the first time it returns to their land following a livestock attack, Oregon Capital Chronicle reports. Conservation groups argue the proposal will allow for needless killings of the endangered species and are pursuing tighter regulations on the practice. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife figures from last year show there were 216 wolves in the state at the end of 2022, up from 206 a year earlier. The Center for Biological Diversity says 53 wolves have been killed in Washington since 2012 over conflicts with livestock. In Colorado, lawmakers are urging the state to set parameters that establish when it’s OK for livestock producers to kill wolves, The Colorado Sun reports.

Study offers insights to monitor heat stress in dairy cows

Heat stress poses an escalating threat to the well-being, health and productivity of dairy cows, particularly those in pasture-based systems. To address this, an exploratory study investigated four commercial dairy farms in Switzerland, focusing on behavioral indicators linked to environmental heat load. The study’s goal was to bridge knowledge gaps and provide practical insights for dairy farmers. Throughout the study, observations including standing/lying, feeding/ruminating, inter-individual distances, proximity to drinker, shade usage and insect infestation were recorded over a 30-day period. The study concluded that distinct changes in daily behavioral patterns such as reduced lying, increased activity and decreased inter-individual distances can serve as effective indicators to monitor heat stress in dairy cows on pasture. These findings are instrumental in developing practical strategies for on-farm management in the face of escalating environmental challenges, doctor of pharmacy candidate Ava Landry writes in dvm360.