Animal Health Matters: The work continues in 2023

Dr. Beth Thompson
Guest columnist

(Editor's note: Russ Daly, the writer of Animal Health Matters, is currently on vacation until May 2023. Guests columnists from the region will be writing this bi-weekly publication during his absence.)

Beth Thompson, State Veterinarian for the state of South Dakota.

Happy New Year! When Dr. Daly asked for some backup columnists, I noticed that my assignment fell at the cusp of 2023. Reflecting back and planning for the future doesn’t always fit into our schedules, but as we move into a new year, this may be a good time to take time.

Looking back over the past year, much of my job and the work of the SD Animal Industry Board (AIB) has been focused on highly pathogenic avian influenza or HPAI. This disease is devastating to domestic poultry; chickens, turkeys and other domestic birds do not survive this strain. It doesn’t matter if the poultry are in a backyard flock or in a commercial flock, HPAI will kill all the birds. The virus is carried by wild waterfowl, and we know that those birds are not surviving either.

Additionally, unlike the 2015 outbreak of HPAI, this specific virus we’re dealing with in 2022 is continuing to affect domestic poultry across the US, into the winter months. A number of egg layer facilities across the US have recently been depopulated, and your family is probably noticing either the lack of eggs or the high cost. I don’t doubt our state will see HPAI cases again in the spring as the wild waterfowl travel north on their migratory journey. Our tools are limited in dealing with HPAI, and until the virus burns itself out or we have proactive tools, such as a vaccine, we’ll continue to respond as we are doing now.

Anthrax was detected here during the summer months and affected a handful of herds in one South Dakota county. The local herd veterinarians were helpful in responding to this outbreak, and we all were reminded that once anthrax is detected or even suspected, quick action is needed to save the rest of the herd. Please remember, anthrax can be prevented with yearly vaccination.

And plans for the upcoming year? The AIB is focused on high consequence diseases. Some of these diseases are considered “foreign animal diseases,” with HPAI is an example. Some other concerning foreign animal diseases haven’t made their way onto the continent, but we know that African Swine Fever is affecting hogs on an island that’s not far away in the Caribbean and there’s been an outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis virus in hogs in Australia. Other diseases and related animal health issues may carry consequences for the farmer or rancher, so we’re also on the lookout for those livestock health threats, such as bovine tuberculosis, equine infectious anemia, a variety of brucellosis species and trichomoniasis. And, have you heard about the Asian Longhorned tick? It’s making its way east to west across the country, and I don’t doubt we may see it, too. Ticks can hitch a ride and travel long distances. Tick control is one aspect of livestock and farm animal health where your veterinarian can help your plans.

Part of the success in dealing with a high consequence disease is based on what you do as a farmer or rancher: keep health and identification records of herd and herd movements, work with your veterinarian to keep your herd or flock healthy and call your veterinarian or let AIB know when you think there’s something wrong. There are too many things that may out of our control -such as wildlife and birds carrying disease and back-to-back blizzards- but knowing your herd and having a veterinarian as part of your team is a measure that will pay off in the long run.

And, if we haven’t met yet, full disclosure: I’m a big advocate of our private veterinarians, and the importance of having a veterinary client relationship. Veterinarians can have important and positive impacts on your herds and flocks. We don’t have enough rural veterinarians and we need to do all we can to support them. From the SD AIB roster, thank you to our field veterinarians Drs. Geis, Wiechmann, Hammrich and Hallstrom for your help this past year. These are the AIB veterinarians who will assist you if the need arises. Finally, to everyone, I hope 2023 brings good things to you, your families, and communities!

Dr. Beth Thompson is South Dakota's State Veterinarian and executive secretary of the state's Animal Industry Board.