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North Dakota watching for bird flu in dairy cows; no cases yet


North Dakota watching for bird flu in dairy cows; no cases yet

Jun 21, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Jeff Beach
North Dakota watching for bird flu in dairy cows; no cases yet
Cases of bird flu have not been identified in North Dakota's small dairy industry. In Iowa, seven dairy herds have had confirmed reports of avian influenza. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Avian flu spreading to cows has heightened the need for biosecurity in the dairy industry, the North Dakota state veterinarian told a legislative committee Thursday. 

State vet Ethan Andress said there have been no reports of dairy cow infections in North Dakota, where the dairy industry is fairly small, but there have been cases in neighboring states. 

A report presented to the Legislature’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee said avian flu has spread quickly in some states with higher densities of dairy farms that have employees or trucks moving from farm to farm. 

“There’s a lot more biosecurity that we need to work on,” Andress said. 

Biosecurity has been a point of emphasis in the poultry industry that has been hit hard by the flu, forcing infected operations to kill off whole flocks of birds and temporarily shut down. 

There have been no reported cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in North Dakota in 2024, after 10 cases in 2023 and 24 cases in 2022.

Many of the North Dakota cases were in smaller backyard flocks, which are more susceptible to the spread of flu from migratory birds, as opposed to commercial flocks that are primarily kept in barns. 

Andress said North Dakota only has 24 dairy farms and those operations are relatively small compared to some operations in Minnesota and South Dakota. 

Nationally, there have been 94 confirmed cases of bird flu in dairy cows. 

He noted that “pasteurization works” in keeping the virus out of the milk supply and ensuring it is safe to drink. 

He noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued guidance on guidelines for county and state fairs where livestock may gather.