Raw Milk

Recently I was asked to speak about raw milk at the US Public Health Services Commission Officers Symposium being held in Glendale this year. So I thought I’d share some of that discussion.

An Abridged History of Humans and Milking Cows

  • Aurochs (forerunners to modern cattle) – domesticated 8,000 to 10,000 years ago in Fertile Crescent
  • 3000 BCE – Egyptian stone carving of person milking cow with calf nearby
  • 1796 CE – In England, Jenner notices milk maids with cow pox are immune to small pox; begins inoculating people
  • 1860s – In France, Pasteur demonstrates basis for germ theory; subsequently develops pasteurization to eliminate germs from medium
  • Late 19th Century US – unhygienic production facilities serve as a medium to spread diseases like typhoid and tuberculosis in cities; public health crisis led to skyrocketing infant mortality
  • 1889 Henry Coit, MD began campaign for Medical Milk Commission to oversee or certify production of milk for cleanliness (son died 1891 from contaminated milk)
  • Commission formed in 1893
  • 1895 commercial pasteurizing machines for milk were introduced
  • “Bad Milk Causes Typhoid,” Sep. 19, 1913 edition of The New York Times – large typhoid epidemic in New York City attributed to contaminated milk
  • 1917 Mandatory Pasteurization begins in many places
  • 1999 Dr. John Leedom, M.D, physician representative – board of directors at California’s Alta Dena Dairy’s certified raw milk operation; discontinued raw milk production and distribution in 1999
  • Today raw milk regulation varies from one extreme to the other across the 50 states; some ban it totally while others allow the sale

Here are Dr. Leedom’s words that I find very clarifying.

“Raw milk and raw milk products should be avoided, unless the consumer believes that the improved taste of the product warrants the risk. Warning labels should appear on all raw milk and raw milk products that clearly spell out the possible dangers, so the consumer can make an informed choice: caveat emptor.”

There are many other aspects that I want to share on this topic. But that will have to suffice for the moment because I am out of time. So next time: raw milk part 2; until then enjoy the ride.


PEDV = Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (but don’t panic, at least not yet!)

Last Friday USDA APHIS VS reported to SAHO (state animal health officials) that Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) had been confirmed in the USA for the first time.

For those of you, like me, who weren’t familiar with this latest acronym – PEDV – think of it as a half-brother to TGE. And my apologies if that one’s new to you as well. But Transmissible Gastro-Enteritis virus is a disease we (swine producers and veterinarians) have successfully managed for decades.

Another point – the Chinese and Koreans have been dealing with PEDV for a few years. This strain closely aligns to one from China in 2012.

In the last 2-3 weeks, roughly a handful of herds primarily in IA but also 1 in IN has tested positive for the virus at labs in ISU and the National Veterinary Services Lab (NVSL). Those herds are experiencing 50-80% mortality in piglets. That’s not pretty.

PEDV is a corona virus just like TGE. And it’s spread by vectors carrying the virus around, especially by tracking mud, manure, and such from one place to another. Key point: bio-security, cleaning & disinfecting, primarily basic, sound husbandry and management practices are folks’ best defenses. TGE vaccines do not seem to provide protection.

  • There is no effect on food safety.
  • There is no effect on humans.

I’ll pass along more information as we get it. But a big point that I want to make at the outset – this isn’t a reportable disease/regulatory matter in any aspect. So it’s not a “sky is falling” scenario. But it could be devastating in farrowing operations, and times are already tough enough.

Be vigilant with C&D (that’s cleaning and disinfecting) of your vehicles and person – don’t spread it around AZ if and/or when it gets here!

A follow up question came up before I could post the above information. And I think it’s a good one. So here it is along with my response.

Is there some danger of transmitting the disease to Arizona with folks bringing pigs from other states?

Mine has been a world of probabilities since I was old enough to gauge the likelihood of my father noticing that I hadn’t done some particular chore well enough and/or by his deadline.

There was also the probability factor to consider that there would be significant personal risk involved if that initial probability proved out. (By the way the probability was usually 100% on both tests, unlike the rest of the real world.)

So to answer the question specifically, without a doubt there is “some danger”. But I can’t do much of a job quantifying that.

What I can say that’s useful, is that thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting everything leaving the premises out there (IA, IN, wherever “there” may be) goes a tremendous way to preventing bringing anything unwanted home with you. Granted, the pigs themselves may be providing the transportation.

But the probabilities are that after the pigs pass a certain age, there isn’t much area in the intestinal lining that the particular virus will be able to attach to and hang on. Therefore the older the pig, usually the less likely to be carrying something like this around.

Another factor to consider in this movement scenario: if this pig does happen to be carrying this (or any other problem that you don’t want at home), the stress (aka this pig’s natural steroid hormone levels will spike and) will likely create a situation where the cause manifests itself as a problem within a few days of the event.

So improve your odds of not spreading it to your home stock by isolating that incoming pig for a couple of weeks when you do get it home. Maybe even pull through a car wash an hour or 2 away from home and hose everything down again, including what the pig left on the trailer while in transit.

True, none of the above is all that quick and easy. But if we were interested in quick and easy, we wouldn’t be farming and ranching for a living.


ISEF is the International Science and Engineering Fair, sponsored by Intel and produced by the Society for Science & the Public. This week ISEF is being held in Phoenix. And in their words,

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, provides an annual forum for more than 1,500 high school students from over 70 countries, regions, and territories to showcase their independent research as they compete for more than $3 million annually. The Intel ISEF is the premier global science competition for students in grades 9–12.

That sounds fairly significant, wouldn’t you say? There are multiple categories from Animal Science to Astronomy and a myriad in between. The list of projects being presented in the Animal Science section is substantial, as is the nature of the projects. How about a few examples?

“Optimal Equine Balance: Application of Biophysics to Assess and Reduce Equine Injury”

“Factors Influencing Canine Mammary Neoplasia”

“Influence of the Number of Estrous Cycles of Heifers Before Exposure to Breeding on Pregnancy Rate and Breed Back Rate in Bos taurus”

“Jellyfish Phototaxis: Developing an Infrared Net for Application in Marine Systems for the Prevention of Jellyfish Fouling and Beach Infestations”

…from students in 9th to 12th grades. Cool.

There are also sections in Chemistry as well as Energy & Transportation. This could be a real blast – literally!

The fair runs from the 12th through the 17th. It’s being held in the Phoenix Convention Center; more information can be found here. Maybe I’ll see you there.

In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

Avian Flew

Yes I did really write that. To borrow a line (and the title of a book) “The Pun Also Rises”.

It’s been a long week.

Concerns about Avian Influenza in Mexico:
Some folks may have picked up on the reports that AI has sprung back to life in central Mexico in a big way.

There’s an organization (formed through treaty) that tracks such things – The World Organization for Animal Health. It underwent a name change a few years back. But because the old one’s initials were so ingrained, OIE, was kept as it’s abbreviated version. All member countries are supposed to report significant incidents to the OIE.

For the latest information on the situation in Mexico with AI that has been provided to OIE, you can check here.

The situation is definitely on the regulatory folks radar.

(No I’m not about to attempt a pun on this one, ripe though the situation may be.)
National Poultry Improvement Plan is the federal page that provides some info on the program. And the folks in GA have a good synopsis of it here also.

We occasionally get queries about the program. Unfortunately we have no one that we can dedicate to it. So here’s an idea. If you are interested in volunteering to help organize and work with us and the public on growing this program in AZ, please contact us at the state vet’s office.

China and Avian Influenza A
This one is a bigger worry (in my opinion) because of how hard it is hitting. CDC’s latest report is out today. An important point to note from the report: “…recommendations for preparing and responding to potential H7N9 cases in the United States.” In other words, we are most definitely trying to make sure we are ready for this if it gets here.

And with that, I’m out of time this time.

T. foetus

Today’s post is going to be something of a shift from the usual. The focus will be on a specific disease, primarily of range cattle; and hopefully we’ll get into a fair amount of detail. Those of you with an immunological or evolutionary curiosity might also find something of interest, too. So don’t leave just yet.

Today’s subject is actually a parasite that’s known as Tritrichomonas foetus(Bonus points will be awarded to anyone successfully getting that mouthful out without hurting themselves.) Tritrichomonas foetus is more commonly referred to as “T. fetus” or simply “trich” (pronounced trik) understandably.

When someone mentions parasites, most folks have a tendency to picture worms. But there are several other varieties of parasites, and Trich belongs to a group known as protozoa. (Maybe you’re familiar with coccidia or giardia? I hope not in a personal way! But they are also protozoa.)

For the most part, protozoa that parasitize animals, aren’t actually invaders of the body’s cells. They actually reside “outside the body proper” in very close proximity. Now some of you will object to your intestinal tract (or other places) being described as outside the body. But from the standpoint of an intact system, that really is the case. Food, and other things, are put into our digestive tract so that nutrients can be absorbed into our bodies. The relationship is intimate without a doubt. But still, technically, that stuff is outside.

And that’s the niche these beasties exploit – by being outside and away from direct attack from most of our body’s defenses but yet close enough to pick up a bunch of goodies to live on.

Change scenes from the digestive tract to the reproductive tract and you have a fairly good visualization of Trich and how it can be successful (from a parasite’s point of view). It hides out in all sorts of nooks and crannies that are in this environment. This venereal disease causing organism proceeds to hitch a ride whenever it can – moving between bulls and cows.

The usual effect of this culprit hits the cow a month or so after the cow becomes pregnant. The cow undergoes an early term abortion that is often not noticed. There’s also an effect on the bull, who becomes persistently infected – which also isn’t noticeable. And most importantly is the effect on the rancher, who becomes poorer because there are fewer calves to sale. This part is very noticeable – after it’s too late to intervene.

In the beginning I mentioned something about immunology and evolution. Some researchers are studying bovine trich as a model for the human disease. That link gets fairly detailed. But it also shines a bit of light onto the (1) difficulties in treating/immunizing against something that lives outside us but very close and personal, and (2) raises the question of why only humans and cattle. I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

Now for the second part of this post. Obviously Trich is a problem, and not an easily managed one. By and large the cows will cycle a few times and clear the parasite. So managing the problem boils down to testing bulls and culling any positive ones. Developing a plan with your vet and neighbors is probably a good place to start dealing with Trich, if you haven’t done so already.

A few years back Arizona implemented a rule to screen incoming bulls to prevent more from entering the state. It has caused some heartburn among some on occasion. But it is an effective prevention. But as some of you likely already noted, that rule won’t have any effect on Trich that is already in the state.

Because of this situation, sporadically some folks will tell me that regulation needs to be promulgated to deal with it. Others sometimes say they see no need for more government intervention when neighbors can deal with the problem on their own.

What I will share with you is information on how 3 other states have chosen to deal with this problem in their states. These are simply ones that I could find online easily and that provide examples.

This post has probably given some folks more to chew on than usual. So until next time, enjoy the ride.


Feral Swine

I received a question recently that I thought I’d share.

Subject: Feral pigs/hogs

Does the Arizona Department of Agriculture have anything to do with feral pigs/hogs? Such as management control or hunting of such animals? Thank you.

Feral swine are specifically excluded from the definition of livestock by state statute. They also do not fall under the jurisdiction of AZ Game and Fish Department. As such there is no regulated hunting season. So by default they are “free game” – provided you are operating within any other pertinent matters of law (e.g. discharging firearms within certain areas, etc.)

Now for some elaboration on subject and the problems feral swine present.

Nature’s own rototillers can do some serious landscaping (as my mother’s yard and garden often bore witness to). Feral swine can be very destructive – a special concern for those folks charged with maintaining areas of riparian habitat within Arizona.

Additionally they present a huge potential for spreading certain diseases (primarily pseudorabies (PRV) and brucellosis). The public, through various state and federal agencies over the course of a few decades, has spent several millions of dollars to control and/or eradicate these diseases from our domestic/commercial swine herds.

A cooperative program among industry, state and federal agencies to eradicate PRV was begun in 1989. PRV was declared eliminated from the commercial herd in USA in 2005. Total cost of the disease was estimated to have been $30 million annually through that period. Obviously this is not something anyone wants back into commercial swine in the USA. But because the feral swine population does harbor the disease, the risk is real; and the threat to the commercial herd grows with the growing presence of feral swine.

There are monitoring programs of feral swine that are on-going for these diseases.

For more than 15 years, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has provided feral swine management and support at the state and local level.  While these efforts have helped alleviate localized damage, the overall feral swine population has continued to increase exponentially, and the problems they cause have become national in scope.

And concern is growing as the populations of feral swine have grown and spread. So efforts are being launched to figure out what best to do.

To more effectively address the damage and disease risks associated with this invasive species, APHIS is considering implementing a nationally coordinated feral swine damage management program in partnership with States and Tribes.

An open meeting will be held in the near future, details can be found here.

You can also find more information here as to the problem they present, along with its scope and cost.

And don’t forget to enjoy the ride (even on a hog – my uncle did often as a child!)