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Farm & Ranch

Acorn Toxicity

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Barry Whitworth, DVM

Area Food/Animal Quality and Health

Specialist for Eastern Oklahoma

With the prolonged drought, most pastures in Oklahoma are in poor condition. With the lack of available forage, animals may go in search of alternative foods. If oak trees are in the pastures, acorns may be a favorite meal for some livestock this fall. This may result in oak poisoning.

Oak (Quercus species) leaves, twigs, buds, and acorns may be toxic to some animals when consumed. Obviously, acorns can be a problem in the fall and green acorns can be more toxic than mature acorns. When acorns form only a small portion of the diet, there are usually no signs of problems. However, consumption of large quantities may result in toxicity. Tannins in the acorns cause the toxicity. The most common tissue damaged by the tannins are the digestive tract and kidneys. Cattle and sheep appear to be more susceptible to toxicity than goats. Other animals such as horses, rabbits, and chickens have succumbed to the toxicity of oak poisoning as well. Interestingly, some individual animals are more tolerable of the toxins and show no ill effects when consuming acorns.

Clinical signs of oak toxicity usually appear a few days after consumption of acorns. Initially, the animals are weak, listless, emaciated, and anorexic. This is followed by ventral edema (swelling of lower parts of the body such as legs, chest, ventral abdomen), urinating large amounts of urine, abdominal pain, and constipation. The animal may pass hard mucus covered fecal material which may change to black tarry or bloody feces as the disease progresses. If the animal is not treated, kidney failure is likely.

A tentative diagnosis of acorn poisoning may be based on clinical signs and access to acorns. Blood tests that indicate kidney disease is another clue to the condition. A necroscopy with examination of tissues for characteristic lesions of the disease is the standard to confirm a diagnosis of oak toxicity.

Treatment of oak toxicity starts with removing the animals from the area where the acorns are located. Those animals displaying signs of the disease should be given fluids to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Mineral oil and/or activated charcoal may be given to reduce toxin absorption. If animals survive the initial toxicity, they may recover, but it may take several weeks for kidney function to return to normal.

As always, prevention is better than treatment. Producers should be very careful allowing livestock to graze in areas where acorns are present. Livestock should be fed plenty of hay and feed this fall to avoid over consumption of acorns. For those producers who cannot avoid grazing areas with large numbers of oak trees, feeding a grain mixture with 10% to 20% of calcium hydroxide has been successful in preventing problems with acorn poisoning.

Two thousand twenty-two has not been the best year for livestock producers. The drought has produced poor pasture conditions as well as very little hay. On top of those problems, feed costs continue to increase. The last problem a producer needs is a large number of sick cows. For those that graze an area with a large number of oak trees, prevention may be worth the cost this year. At the very least keep a close watch of your animals this fall. Producers wanting more information about oak toxicity, should consult with their local veterinarian or visit with their Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension County Agriculture Educator.

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Farm & Ranch

Mammals and Avian Influenza

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Barry Whitworth, DVM, MPH
Senior Extension Specialist

Department of Animal & Food Sciences

Freguson College of Agriculture

At the writing of this article, High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 has been detected in over 83 million domestic poultry in the United States (US). The outbreak includes commercial and backyard flocks. Most people are aware that poultry may succumb to Avian Influenza but may not know that other animals can be infected with the virus. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a variety of mammals have been infected with Avian Influenza H5N1 in the US. The list of over 200 mammals includes bears, foxes, skunks, coyotes, etc. Even marine animals such as dolphins and seals have been found with the virus. Current Avian Influenza H5N1 infections in poultry, mammals, and livestock in the US can be found at the Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza website at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/livestock-poultry-disease/avian/avian-influenza/hpai-detections.

Recently, ruminants have been diagnosed with Avian Influenza H5N1 in the US. The World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) reported that neonatal goats displaying neurological clinical signs and death were positive for Avian Influenza. The farm was located in Stevens County Minnesota. The poultry on the farm had recently been depopulated due to HPAI H5N1. According to AVMA News, ten goats died that ranged in age from 5 to 9 days old. Five of the goat kids tested positive for the virus. The strain of Avian Influenza found in the goats was very similar to the previous HPAI H5N1 strain found in the chickens and ducks. How the goat kids were infected is still under investigation. However, the goats and poultry shared the same area and water source.

Over the past several weeks, veterinarians and dairymen have been reporting unusual illnesses in dairy cattle in Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas. According to AVMA News and other reports, the illness appeared in approximately ten percent of the herd. The USDA reported that the illness had a rapid onset and tended to be in older lactating cattle. Clinical signs noticed were a decrease in appetite and milk production. Cows had thick yellow colostrum like milk. Some cattle had abnormal feces and fevers. Some respiratory signs were noticed. According to veterinarians involved in treating the cattle, the most helpful treatment was intravenous and oral fluids. Most cattle recovered in two to three weeks.

After a variety of test were performed on the cattle with the illness described above, no clear cause of the disease was found. This initiated the USDA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to begin a disease investigation. On March 25th, they reported that HPAI H5N1 had been found in the dairy cattle in Kansas, and Texas. Since this initial announcement, sick cattle in New Mexico, Idaho, Michigan, and Ohio were confirmed with the virus and other states were awaiting test results. Whether a correlation exists between the HPAI H5N1 diagnosis and illness in the dairy cattle is still to be determined.

HPAI H5N1 causes severe clinical signs in domestic poultry and normally results in high mortality rates. At the writing of this article, clinical signs in cattle have been mild and no cattle have died. For this reason, several groups have proposed that HPAI H5N1 should not be used to reference the disease in cattle. The adoption of Influenza A Virus-Bovine (IAV-B) or Bovine Influenza A Virus has been proposed. IAV-B will be used in the remainder of this article as the name of the virus.

Prevention of IAV-B and/or other foreign animal diseases relies heavily on biosecurity. Livestock producers should have a proper biosecurity protocol in place. One key to biosecurity is to try to prevent contact with wildlife. While this can be difficult, keeping wild birds away from feeding and watering areas should be a priority. For more information on biosecurity, livestock producers should visit The Center for Food Security and Public Health at https://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/.

The finding of IAV-B in dairy cattle has no impact on the safety of US milk and dairy products. Milk from all sick dairy cattle is discarded and pasteurization kills most bacteria, viruses such as IVA-B, and other pathogens.

On April 1, 2024, the CDC reported a positive human case of Avian Influenza H5N1. The person had been close contact with dairy cattle thought to be infected with IAV-B. The patient has conjunctivitis and is recovering. This human infection does not change the CDC’s assessment of H5N1 virus human health risk. The risk continues to be low. However, individuals that deal with animals or birds suspected of having Avian Influenza virus should wear proper protective equipment.

This is a rapidly evolving situation. Further testing will be required to understand the role that HPAI H5N1 virus played or did not play in the above situations. In the meantime, livestock producers who have questions about sick animals should contact their veterinarian. Also, livestock producers should be protecting their livestock with a good biosecurity plan. Livestock producers wanting additional information on IAV-B in ruminants should contact their veterinarian and/or their Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension County Ag Educator.

References

American Veterinary Medical Association (2024, March 27). AVMA News. https://www.avam.org/news.  

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2024 April 1). Highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) Virus Infection Reported in a Person in the US. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2024/p0401-avian-flu.html

USDA APHIS (2024, April 1). Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Dairy Herds: Frequently Asked Questions. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/sites/default/files/hpai-dairy-faqs.pdf.

 World Organization for Animal Health (2024 March 27). WAHIS. https://wahis.woah.org/#/event-management

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Farm & Ranch

Hazards of Backyard Poultry

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

Having backyard poultry is a popular agriculture enterprise. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 0.8 percent of all households in the United States have chickens. People keep chickens for a variety of reasons with table eggs being one of the more common reasons. Unfortunately, some of these poultry producers are not aware of the hazards that come with keeping poultry because many times they carry pathogens but appear healthy.

Chickens are carriers of several zoonotic diseases. These are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. According to a recent survey in Pennsylvania, a majority of backyard poultry producers were aware of the dangers of avian influenza. However, this study also revealed that far fewer producers were aware of the risk of possible exposure to Salmonella and Campylobacter. The lack of knowledge about the hazards of raising poultry likely contributes to the continued issues of Salmonella outbreaks associated with backyard poultry. In 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,072 illnesses of Salmonella linked to backyard poultry, and 272 of those patients required hospitalization. Oklahoma reported 43 individuals with the disease.

Direct contact with chickens is not the only way to be exposed to the pathogens they carry. The environment in which they live can be a danger due to air quality and waste in the soil. The air in a poultry coop is composed of dust particles, ammonia, pathogens, poultry droppings, and other materials. Breathing the dust while cleaning a poultry coop has been associated with respiratory issues in poultry workers. One study found that human infections are associated with contact with poultry waste and soil. Backyard poultry producers may be exposed to poultry droppings when cleaning equipment or pens.

Most zoonotic diseases can be prevented. Proper hand hygiene is one of the best disease prevention tools available. According to the Pennsylvania study, most poultry producers wash their hands after having contact with their birds. However, that same study found most poultry producers do not wear gloves or cover their mouths when handling animals or animal manure. Backyard poultry producers should wear proper protective equipment when cleaning equipment and pens.

Poultry producers can protect themselves by following some simple rules.

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after having any contact with poultry or any area where poultry are located.  If soap is not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Do not kiss or snuggle birds.
  • Do not allow poultry to enter areas where food and drinks are prepared, served and stored.
  • Do not eat or drink where poultry are located.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly.
  • Clean equipment associated with poultry outdoors.
  • Older adults, pregnant women, children under five, and immunocompromised individuals should be extra careful around poultry.
  • Wear protective clothing, shoes, gloves, and a face mask when cleaning poultry houses.

Having chickens in the backyard can be very rewarding experiences. However, poultry owners should be aware of the potential hazards associated with backyard poultry production and protect themselves. If poultry producers would like more information about hazards associated with backyard poultry, contact your local veterinarian and/or Oklahoma State University County Extension Agriculture Educator. Also, the CDC has a website dedicated to backyard poultry producers’ health. The website can be accessed at https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/farm-animals/backyard-poultry.html.

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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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