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Michigan pays dairy farmers affected by avian flu

A quarter of the country’s H5N1-infected dairy farms are in Michigan; the state is offering $28,000 each for research on 20 farms.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

June 25, 2024

3 Min Read
A man on a tablet in a diary barn
VIRUS STUDY: In exchange for working with federal and state government agencies to investigate how the virus infected their operations, the state is offering up to 20 HPAI-infected farms $28,000 each for epidemiological investigations and dairy herd real-time longitudinal studies. shironosov/Getty Images

Since March 29, Michigan has had 24 dairy operations test positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The state’s dairy farmers are facing unprecedented challenges, says Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Tim Boring, who recently announced emergency response funding to help advance research on the disease and aid farms in recovery.

In exchange for working with federal and state government agencies to investigate how the virus infected their operations, the state is offering up to 20 HPAI-infected farms $28,000 each for complete epidemiological investigations and dairy herd real-time longitudinal studies.

This assistance is in addition to funding already available from USDA to HPAI-affected dairy farms in Michigan.

With a focus on mitigating the spread of HPAI, Michigan's response has been a one-health approach, working with federal, state and local partners to address both animal and public health concerns rapidly, Boring says.

Three USDA emergency management teams have been on the ground assisting the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) in day-to-day responses at all affected poultry facilities statewide. An epidemiological team from USDA is also deployed to further assist in tracing and testing within dairy herds to be able to provide real-time information.

“Our HPAI-impacted farms have been incredibly cooperative in Michigan’s one-health approach to combat this disease,” Boring says.

Here’s the history in Michigan:

  • Feb. 22, 2022: HPAI was first confirmed in a backyard poultry flock in Kalamazoo County.

  • 2022: A total of 21 poultry flocks were depopulated because of the virus.

  • 2023: Seven poultry flocks were depopulated.

  • March 29, 2024: MDARD confirmed HPAI in a “large” Montcalm County commercial dairy operation of more than 500 cows, with about 10% testing positive for the virus. The operation received asymptomatic animal(s) from a HPAI-positive Texas herd.

  • April 1 to now: A total of 23 Michigan dairy operations and eight poultry facilities have tested positive for HPAI.

  • 2024: Ionia County has been hit hard with the virus with five dairy operations, three large commercial hen-laying operations (6 million-plus poultry) and one backyard flock testing positive.

  • 2024: Gratiot County has had five dairy operations and two poultry operations test positive, while Clinton County has had five dairy operations test positive.

  • A quarter of the country’s H5N1-infected dairy farms are in Michigan

Unlike poultry that succumb to the disease rather quickly and must be depopulated once an operation has had even one animal test positive, it is almost never fatal in dairy cows, who may exhibit symptoms of a fever, stiff manure, abnormal milk and a drop in production, according to MDARD.

HPAI-positive animals are isolated in sick pens, potentially treated with antibiotics and fluids, while their milk is diverted from the supply chain.

However, as the virus bounces back and forth between species (there are close to 30 animals species confirmed), there is some concern mutations could make it transmittable between humans (currently not) and potentially cause a pandemic.

Michigan has had two dairy farmworkers recovering from the virus, and the U.S. has four total. At this time, the CDC considers the risk of HPAI to the general public to be low. HPAI is zoonotic, meaning it can spread from animals to humans, but it doesn't easily infect humans and doesn't currently spread easily between people, CDC reports.

USDA and MDARD officials say there is no concern with the safety of the commercial milk supply because products are pasteurized before entering the market, in activating bacteria and viruses.

On May 1, Boring signed an "Determination of Extraordinary Emergency" to further protect Michigan's poultry and livestock industries from the ongoing threat of HPAI. Michigan's order enhances USDA's federal order, which was issued April 24.

To sign up for HPAI alerts, go to michigan.gov/birdflu or to find additional information on MDARD’s ongoing response efforts.

Information on protecting home flocks

New information, “Keeping You and Your Flock Healthy – Information on Avian Influenza” has been released by Michigan State University Extension with specific practices backyard poultry owners and other poultry enthusiasts can implement to help reduce the risk of disease transmission to their home flocks.

This information highlights what HPAI is and how it spreads, symptoms for infected birds and humans, simple methods farmers can use to reduce the risk of disease in their flock, and what to do if you suspect that birds are infected with HPAI.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

Jennifer was hired as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, and in 2015, she began serving a dual role as editor of Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer. Both those publications are now online only, while the print version is American Agriculturist, which covers Michigan, Ohio, the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic. She is the co-editor with Chris Torres.

Prior to joining Farm Progress, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan, and as director of communications with the Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her resume.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003. She has won numerous writing and photography awards through that organization, which named her a Master Writer in 2006 and Writer of Merit in 2017.

She is a board member for the Michigan 4-H Foundation, Clinton County Conservation District and Barn Believers.

Jennifer and her husband, Chris, live in St. Johns, Mich., and collectively have five grown children and four grandchildren.

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