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Balancing Act – Brittany Hukill

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Some of her earliest memories are of her, cuddled in a quilt on the floor of the tractor cab as her father worked in his fields. “I’m not really sure how there was enough room, because we still have some of those tractors,” Brittany Hukill, of Hinton, Okla., laughed. “I have those memories of growing up on the farm and growing up in the middle of it made me realize that there is a lot you can learn just by being around it. My dad didn’t force me to work when I was that small, but because I was around it, I have a love for being in a tractor and a combine, just because that’s what I did when I was little.”

Brittany Hukill is a fifth generation farmer in Western Oklahoma, and at only 24 years old, is in charge of day-to-day operations of Krehbiel Farms and Southwest Center Pivots. She’s actively involved in several farming organizations, and she and her husband are expecting their first child this fall. To say she’s busy is more than an understatement.

To understand Brittany’s love of the land and farming, it’s important to go back more than a century ago, when her great great grandfather, Jacob A. Pankratz, traded a wagon full of oats and a team of mules for the first quarter of land her family owned. “That was back in the early 1900s, and then that farmland has been passed down through generations. The second generation was a daughter, Margaret (Pankratz) Krehbiel, and she married my great grandpa Val and joined into the Krehbiel family, and that carried down to my grandpa, my dad, and then me,” she explained.

Brittany, born in 1995, grew up on the farm. Her dad, Jeff Krehbiel, farmed full time with his father Wayne Krehbiel, and eventually purchased the farming operation with his wife Karen in 1998. The farming operation consists of commercial sheep, and their main crop is seed wheat which are mostly varieties from the Oklahoma State breeding program. They also have farmed alfalfa, milo, canola, soy beans and peanuts.

Wayne started Southwest Center Pivots in the early 1980s. To get through the farm crisis, he began selling the irrigation systems out of a hardware store he owned in Hydro. He sold the irrigation systems to local people, but then business continued to spread, and now, almost 40 years later, systems are sold all across the state of Oklahoma and about 50 miles into the surrounding states.

Tragedy struck the family in 2009 when Jeff was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died two short years later, when Brittany was only 15. Just before her dad passed, she made a promise to him that she would come back to the farm. “I planned to go to Oklahoma State University, and return home to farm after graduation,” she shared.

With the help of her grandfather, Brittany and her mother, an accountant by trade, kept the farm and irrigation system running while she was away. In the busiest times of the year, that meant that Brittany would be making the almost two-hour drive home every weekend.

Sadly, Wayne passed away in 2016, when Brittany still had a year of college left. She was able to finish a semester early and kept her promise to return to the farm.

“It was extremely difficult on my mom and me after they passed. It was tough, but I know it was by God’s grace that we survived. Between my dad’s death and then my grandfathers, we would not be where we are without God. There is no way to handle that kind of loss and survive on your own.” She added, “I just think it’s impossible to go through not only being a farmer, but to go through loss without the hope that we have because of Christ. I don’t see how other people would be able to do it, and I fully credit our ability to survive based on that.”

It’s bittersweet, but Hukill knows her father’s death likely allowed her to raise her family on the same land. “Before dad got sick, I didn’t really know if there would be room for me because a farm can only sustain so many generations at one time, so I didn’t know what opening there would be for me,” she said, her voice catching slightly. “When he died, I knew there would be an opening for me that there might not have been. But, I also worried that it might fall apart because he was gone.  I have no doubt that if dad were here, he would be so proud and excited to see what’s happening on the farm. I try to avoid “what-if” scenarios because I can’t change what’s happened, and those things have made me who I am. At the same time, getting to farm and run our irrigation business with dad would have been so much fun. I miss his humor and laugh almost daily, even after eight years. When you spend your life working on the farm, you always hope the next generation will pick up where you leave off and continue on in an even better direction. I think where we are now and the steps we are taking for the future would make all of the generations before me proud, at least I hope they would.”

While her mom still works on the accounting and books, Brittany can typically be found taking care of daily operations of the farm and irrigation business. The only thing that could be typical is that there are few days that are. On any given day you can catch her scheduling employees, meeting irrigation customers, running for parts or supplies, sending out billing for the irrigation business, working in the fields or doing projects around the farm with her husband. 

Becoming Brittany Hukill

It was while at OSU that Brittany met Logan Hukill, a young man originally from the Altus area. The pair met at the beginning of Brittany’s sophomore year. “I was very cautious when I was in college, because I didn’t want people to know my family had a farm and irrigation business. I knew it would be attractive to some people, so I just kept that information contained,” she shared.

It was during one of their very first conversations that Logan shared his hopes for the future. “He said, ‘I want to do health care, because I feel like that’s where God wants me to be. But I also do not want to live in the city. I want to live an hour or so outside the city on a farm or ranch with animals and livestock.’ I thought that it might work, and I knew he was genuinely looking for someone, not an opportunity. As time went on, I realized it would work,” she said.

The pair were married in 2018. Logan now works as a registered nurse in the emergency room in the Integris Baptist Medical System in Oklahoma City. “He works on the farm on his days off. We have a little bit of role reversal of what people would think is typical, but it works for us,” she said.

With the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brittany and Logan have taken a few extra precautions, but they don’t let fear rule their lives. “It’s been interesting. We have a system for when he gets home from work, but, if I’ve learned anything in my few years here on earth, I know I can’t live in fear. I have lost lots of people I love, and I just don’t have the time or the brain capacity to be fearful. If I was going to be afraid of everything that could possibly kill me, I wouldn’t get anything done.” She added, “So yes, we’re careful, but at the end of the day, we have to live.”

The Hukills are expecting their first child in September, and Brittany is looking forward to raising her child as she was. “My plan is for me to be able to slow down a little bit, because we’ll be headed into the winter months, so the irrigation business will start to slow down. I’m hoping to be able to take a few months to just be with the baby. I know I’ll have to get the guys out the door first thing in the morning, but then I can go back to being mom,” she said.

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Farm & Ranch

Inventions of Agriculture: The Reaper

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Agriculture has been a staple of human society since around 9000 BCE during the Neolithic Era, when humans began developing and cultivating their own food.

For centuries, food production was a slow, tedious process until the invention of agricultural machinery. One such invention was the reaper. Until its time, small grains were harvested by hand, cut with sickles or scythes, hand-raked and tied into sheaves.

While a few had unsuccessfully attempted to create a similar machine, it was Cyrus McCormick who would ultimately be credited with the invention of the first commercially successful reaper in 1831.

McCormick’s invention was a horse-drawn machine used to harvest wheat, a combination between a chariot and a wheelbarrow. He had joined together the earlier harvesting machines into a single, timesaving one. His reaper allowed producers to double their crop size, capable of cutting six acres of oats in just one afternoon. In contrast, it would have taken 12 workers with scythes to do the equivalent in the same amount of time.

McCormick had simply followed in his father’s footsteps. Growing up in Rockbridge County, Virginia, his father had also created several farming implements and even worked to invent a mechanical reaper of his own.

McCormick would patent his invention in July 1834, a year after Obed Hussey had announced the making of a reaper of his own. In 1837, McCormick began manufacturing his machine on his family’s estate.  

In 1847, McCormick recognized Chicago as the future of the agricultural machinery industry. The railroad to Galena was nearing completion, the Illinois and Michigan Canal would soon be open, and a telegraph link to the east was coming. So, in 1847, McCormick, together with his partner and future Chicago mayor Charles M. Gray, purchased three lots on the Chicago River and built a factory where they would produce the reaper. It was the first of many industrial companies that would make their way to the area, making Chicago an industrial leader.

McCormick wasn’t done yet. He purchased an additional 130 acres in Chicago in 1871, but the Great Fire of 1871 threatened to destroy his company when the factory burned. It was his young wife, Nettie Fowler McCormick, who pushed the company forward when she went to the site just days after the fire and ordered the rebuilding of the factory. By 1880, McCormick was the largest machinery producer in Chicago and employment reached 7,000, a whopping fifth of the nation’s total.

McCormick joined the companies of Deering and Plano to form the International Harvester Company in 1902. At its height, the company controlled more than 80 percent of grain harvesting equipment in the world. While the Great Depression would hit Chicago’s agricultural industry hard, McCormick’s invention of the reaper forever changed the face of agriculture.

Resources

Carstensen, Fred. (2005) Agricultural Machinery Industry. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/29.html

Cycrus McCormick, Mechanical Reaper. (2022) The National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved from https://www.invent.org/inductees/cyrus-mccormick

Although the author has made every effort to ensure the informa­tion in this article is accurate, this story is meant for informational purposes only and is not a substi­tute for historical documents.

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Scrapie

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Barry Whitworth, DVM
Senior Extension Specialist Department of Animal & Food Science Ferguson College of Agriculture

Scrapie is a chronic, progressive disease of the central nervous system that affects sheep and goats. Scrapie is the oldest of the group of neurodegenerative diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE). Some of the other TSE are Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy known as mad cow disease, Chronic Wasting Disease which is found in deer, and Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease which is found in humans. TSE are protein-misfolding diseases that lead to brain damage and are always fatal.

The cause of Scrapie is not completely understood, but evidence indicates that an infectious protein referred to as a prion is responsible for the disease. These infectious prions cause damage to the normal prion proteins found in the brain. The mis-folding of the proteins lead to brain damage and the presentation of clinical signs of the disease. Prions are very resistant to destruction, so once in the environment, they are difficult to remove.

Scrapie is believed to primarily be transmitted by the oral route. Typically, lambs and kids might ingest the prion when they come in contact with the infectious agent through placentas and birthing fluids from infected ewes and does. Older animals may be exposed to the prions this way as well. Colostrum and milk are also sources of prions. Other secretions such as urine, feces, saliva, and nasal secretions may contain infectious prions as well. Once ingested, the prions cross into the lymphoid system. The prions will incubate for a long time usually two to five years before entering the nervous system.

Genetics plays a part in Scrapie infections. Certain breeds are more susceptible to the disease due to genetic composition. Genetic testing is available for producers to help them select breeding stock with resistant genes.

Clinical signs most commonly associated with Scrapie are intense pruritis, ataxia, and wasting. Early in the disease, small ruminant producers may notice slight changes in behavior with sheep and goats infected with Scrapie. Initially, animals may have a staring or fixed gaze, may not respond to herding, and may be aggressive towards objects. As the disease progresses, other clinical signs noticed are progressive weight loss with normal appetite, incoordination, head tremors, and intense pruritis. In the terminal stages, sheep are recumbent and may have blindness, seizures, and an inability to swallow. Once initial clinical signs are notice, death usually occurs in one to six months.

The gold standard for postmortem (dead animals) diagnosing of Scrapie is the use of immunohistochemistry test on brain tissues as well as microscopic examination of brain tissue for characteristic TGE lesions. Live animal diagnosis is possible by testing lymphoid tissues from the third eyelid and rectal mucosa scrapings.

There is no treatment available for Scrapie, so prevention is key to controlling the disease. Following biosecurity protocols is a good starting point for preventing Scrapie. Part of the biosecurity plan is to maintain a closed flock and only buy replacement animals from certified Scrapie free flocks. Producers should limit visitors’ contact with their animals. Sanitation is important in lambing and kidding areas. Manure and bedding contaminated with birthing fluids and placentas should be disposed of properly. Genetically resistant animals should be used for breeding to produce genetically resistant offspring.

It should be noted that there is a novel or atypical form of Scrapie. This disease may also be referred to as Nor98 variant. This atypical version of Scrapie was initially found in Norway. It has been diagnosed in the United States as well. The disease is usually only found in a single old animal in the flock or herd. The brain lesions in atypical Scrapie are different from classical Scrapie. Currently, experts believe that natural transmission of atypical Scrapie is not likely.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been battling Scrapie for decades. According to recent information from the USDA, the United States (US) is close to accomplishing eradication of the disease. In order for the United States to achieve Scrapie free status, no sheep or goats can test positive for classical scrapie for seven years and a certain level of testing needs to be done each year that represents the sheep and goat populations within the country. Small ruminant producers can assist the USDA eradication efforts by contacting the USDA when they have an adult sheep or goat exhibiting clinical signs of Scrapie or an adult animal dies or is euthanized. Producers should contact the Oklahoma State Veterinarian, Dr. Rod Hall at 405-522-6141 or the USDA Veterinary Services at 405-254-1797. This will aid the USDA in reaching sampling testing goals. There is no charge for the collection or testing of the samples for scrapie. 

Scrapie is a disease that needs to be eliminated from the US. Once eliminated, the US will have additional export markets for sheep and goat products. Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service has an informative fact sheet on Scrapie. Please visit the Local County Extension Office and asked for fact sheet VTMD-9135 or producers may view the fact sheet online at  https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/scrapie.html. Also, the USDA National Scrapie Eradication Program website has valuable information as well at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/sheep-and-goat-health/national-scrapie-eradication-program

References Cassmann, E. D., & Greenlee, J. J. (2020). Pathogenesis, detection, and control of scrapie in sheep. American journal of veterinary research81(7), 600–614. https://doi.org/10.2460/ajvr.81.7.600

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Farm & Ranch

Avian Influenza Update

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Barry Whitworth, DVM

Area Food/Animal Quality and Health

Specialist for Eastern Oklahoma

High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) continues to be a problem in commercial and backyard poultry in the Unites States (US) with over 60 million birds affected. Since the start of the outbreak in 2022, 879 flocks (347 commercial and 532 backyard flocks) have been confirmed with HPAI in the US. Many wild birds and mammals have been affected as well. Five backyard flocks and one commercial flock have been confirmed with HPAI during this outbreak in Oklahoma. The latest was detected in a backyard flock in Carter County on October 16, 2023. For a complete listing of domestic birds, wild birds, and mammals affected by HPAI visit 2022-2023 Detection of High Path Avian Influenza website at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/avian-influenza/2022-hpai.

Avian influenza (AI) is a highly contagious viral disease. The virus is classified as either Low Path Avian Influenza (LPAI) or HPAI depending on the virulence. This virus infects many food producing birds such as chickens and turkeys while it commonly resides in migratory waterfowl and many other wild birds. Most often ducks, geese, and wild birds harbor the virus in the intestinal tract without having any clinical signs of the disease. The virus is shed in the feces and respiratory secretions from infected birds. Poultry can be infected with the virus when they come in direct contact with infected birds or consume feed that is contaminated with the virus. The virus can be spread indirectly through objects like shoes, clothes, or equipment contaminated with the virus.

Clinical signs of the disease vary depending on the severity of the virus and the organ system affected. LPAI usually results in no clinical signs or only mild problems. However, HPAI has many different clinical signs. Death with no symptoms is a common finding. Respiratory problems such as coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal discharges may be seen. Depression resulting in loss of appetite and decrease consumption of water may occur. Egg production may be impacted with a decrease in production and/or softshell or misshapen eggs. A bird’s comb, wattle, head, eyelids, and hocks may swell. Combs and wattles may turn purple. Nervous system disorders including tremors, incoordination, and unusual positions of the head may be seen. Diarrhea has been reported in some cases. For more information about clinical signs visit Defend the Flock-Signs of Illness at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/defend-the-flock-program/outbreak-illness/outbreak-illness.

For commercial and backyard poultry flocks, the best defense against HPAI is a sound biosecurity program. Biosecurity is the development and implementation of management procedures intended to reduce or prevent unwanted threats from entering a flock. The protocol is designed to reduce or prevent the spread of unwanted threats through the flock and eliminate any unwanted pathogens that may enter the flock. Lastly, a biosecurity plan is designed to prevent threats from infecting neighboring poultry operations. Biosecurity can be broken down into four basic areas which include traffic, isolation, sanitation, and husbandry.

The first line of defense should be limiting the traffic that enters the area. Poultry operations should have a perimeter buffer area (PBA). For backyard poultry operations, this could be a fence. In commercial operations this may be a fence or road that surrounds the facility. All entry points need to be clearly marked with “Do Not Enter” signs. In a study by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) evaluating factors associated with introduction of HPAI in layer farms in the US, the presence of a gate was found to be protective against the introduction of the virus. Gates with signage may encourage people to follow biosecurity protocols.

Inside the PBA, a line of separation (LOS) needs to be established. The LOS isolates the birds from possible sources of infections. The LOS is usually the walls of the poultry building plus the entry point.  No person should cross this line without following proper biosecurity protocols. Producers should provide visitors with clean coveralls and disposable shoe covers. Visitors should wash their hands before and after visiting the facility. All visitors should dip their shoes in a disinfectant solution when entering and exiting the facility. Also, no other animals, wild or domestic should cross the LOS.

Sanitation is one of the most important parts of a biosecurity plan. All equipment, feeders, waterers, and buildings need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. First, all fecal material and dirt should be physically removed. Next, disinfectants must be applied and allowed sufficient contact time to work properly. Foot baths need to be properly maintained. The property outside the poultry house should be kept mowed and cleaned. Failure to keep the grass cut and/or to promptly clean up feed spills is associated with HPAI.

Poultry producers must also practice good animal husbandry. Flocks need to be observed several times per day. Producers need to collect and dispose of dead birds frequently. Producer should know the clinical signs of a sick bird. Any unusual increases in sick or dead birds should be reported to proper authorities. Backyard producers have several options. They can contact their veterinarian or Oklahoma State University County Extension office. They can also contact the Oklahoma State Veterinarian at 405-522-6141.

The National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) has guidelines for a biosecurity protocol. Commercial and backyard poultry producers should examine the NPIP 14 standards of the biosecurity protocol. Any areas that do not meet the standards need to be addressed. The NPIP biosecurity audit form can be found at http://www.poultryimprovement.org/documents/AuditForm-2018BiosecurityPrinciples.pdf. Additional sources for backyard poultry producers can be found at the USDA Defend the Flock website at healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov, Protect Your Poultry From Avian Influenza at  https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_health/bro-protect-poultry-from-ai.pdf or Oklahoma State University fact sheet Small Flock Biosecurity for Prevention of Avian Influenza ANSI-8301.

Avian Influenza is a major threat to the US and Oklahoma poultry industry. It is the responsibility of all commercial and backyard poultry producers to do everything in their power to protect this industry.

Reference 

Swayne, D.E. and Halvorson, D.A. 2003 Influenza. In Y. M. Saif (ed.). Diseases of Poultry, 11th ed. Iowa State Press: Ames, Iowa, 135-160.

Green, A. L., Branan, M., Fields, V. L., Patyk, K., Kolar, S. K., Beam, A., Marshall, K., McGuigan, R., Vuolo, M., Freifeld, A., Torchetti, M. K., Lantz, K., & Delgado, A. H. (2023). Investigation of risk factors for introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus onto table egg farms in the United States,

2022: a case-control study. Frontiers in veterinary science10, 1229008.

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