How bird flu could threaten cow cuddling Yes, it’s a thing. By Reuters

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By PJ Huffstutter

MONEE, Ill. (Reuters) – Farmer Luz Klotz straightened the brightly striped hair bow of Reba, a 1,600-pound heifer lounging on the ground under twinkling lights. Teenager Joey Pachl, hoping to impress his girlfriend with an invite to the prom, had paid $75 for an hour-long cow-cuddling session at the farm.

Pachl has successfully amazed animal-loving friend Emma. For Luz and husband Dan Klotz, such visitors have become key to paying the feed bills and keeping their small farm running.

Paying farmers to nest with half-ton heifers is all the rage in the United States thanks to social media. For visitors, cuddling dairy or beef cattle can be therapeutic, or simply an adventure for city dwellers looking for some old-fashioned country fun.

But this practice of opening the barn door to the public is facing a new risk, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed bird flu in dairy herds in nine states.

Scientists have said the outbreak is likely more widespread among the country’s more than 26,000 licensed dairy farms, based on findings of H5N1 particles in about 20% of milk samples. One Texas dairy worker tested positive for the virus, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has monitored more than 100 people who were exposed.

Government officials say the risk of human infection is low. But state and federal government officials are urging livestock and dairy farmers to limit outside visitors as much as possible.

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In Michigan, where one dairy herd has tested positive, the head of the state’s agriculture department signed an emergency measure this week with new sanitary measures and access restrictions to dairy and commercial poultry farms starting May 8.

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The decision does not expressly prohibit cuddling cows. But Tim Boring, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, told Reuters: “From a human-to-animal health perspective, this is not a good time to hug cows. This is to protect the cows and people. “

Any restrictions could pose economic problems for small family farms that rely on cow cuddling and other agrotourism practices to provide their financial lifeline. Cow-cuddling sessions at the De Vor Dairy Farm and Creamery in northern Michigan are reserved weeks in advance and cover the farm’s insurance bill.

“I am not worried about bird flu, because the farm is already open to the public and we have already taken safety measures,” says farmer Henk De Vor.

Luz and Dan Klotz of Illinois, owners of Luz Farms, have also taken protective measures to ensure the safety of their visitors and keep their farm running. One hour of cuddling cows yields one bale of hay – enough to feed their small herd for a week.

“It helps a lot,” Dan Klotz said.

Weekend sessions at Clarksville Cow Cuddling, on Mary’s Land Farm in Maryland, are booked for the next two months. Demand is also high at The Cuddle Corral in Arizona, Texas Gaushala Farm in Texas and Sunset View Creamery in New York, farmers said.

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From yoga classes with baby goats and feeding baby piglets to corn mazes and pick-your-own sunflower fields, more than 28,600 U.S. farms offered agritourism or recreational services on their land in 2022 — generating $1.26 billion in revenue, up 32% from five years earlier, the study found. USDA data.

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Such revenue streams are critical right now: U.S. farm incomes are expected to suffer the biggest decline in 18 years as crop prices fall, USDA data shows, and small farms are particularly affected.

“Agritourism is a real economic driver for small farmers who have found a niche,” said Curt Covington, senior director of institutional credit at AgAmerica Lending.

She meant yes

Bird flu has spread from migratory birds to dozens of species around the world, according to public health experts. USDA believes the virus spreads primarily among livestock through contact with raw milk, Rosemary Sifford, the agency’s chief veterinarian, said on a media call.

Although USDA has not publicly named the dairy farms where the cows tested positive, the agency told Reuters that the size of affected dairy farms ranges from 300 to 23,000 head.

“Regardless of the size of the operation, all dairy producers must redouble their biosecurity efforts and be vigilant about monitoring and controlling disease in their herds,” a spokesperson for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a statement.

Cow-hugging hosts say they are taking steps to ensure the safety of visitors and their animals.

It was Linda Pachl, Joey’s mother, who first saw a post about Luz Farms’ cow-cuddling sessions on Facebook (NASDAQ:) – and suggested the idea to her son. Joey asked the farmers if they could make up a banner in Emma’s school colors that read: “Prom?”

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A week later, as country music played over the barn’s battered radio, the banner was hung over the body of Yogi, a calf on the farm. Pachl bumped friend Emma Maiers on the shoulder. “Good?” he asked.

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“I love cows!” screamed Maiers, 16. Pachl grinned. Not exactly the answer he expected, but he figured she meant yes.

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