Considering the fact that livestock or poultry operations are found on half of Nebraska’s 49,600 farms, it’s little wonder why it’s so important that animals be protected from diseases.
And to help toward that end, Dr. Dennis Hughes and his staff at the Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s (NDA) Animal and Plant Health Protection Area are continuously seeking the most effective methods to ensure the health of the state’s cattle, pigs, chickens and other livestock.
It’s essential not only for the animals and the farmers who own them, but for all Nebraskans.
“Livestock production in Nebraska is huge,” says Hughes, state veterinarian. “It makes up 50 percent of our gross output for agriculture income. We are a large cattle state with a growing dairy sector. We’re also significant in swine numbers and poultry. When that’s such a big part of your state’s economic engine, we have to do our best to prevent disease incidents.”
Emphasis on Animal Imports
A key area in which Hughes and his staff concentrate their efforts is animal importation.
“Nebraska is a large importing state,” Hughes says. “We import a lot of cattle and swine, as well as a fair amount of breeding animals. We have to be cautious that what comes into our state is healthy before those animals can become part of our existing animal population. We have specific import statutes and regulations in place for cattle and swine, sheep, goats, even small animals. It’s quite a task, quite a responsibility.”
Even with the safeguards in place to prevent the outbreak of animal diseases in Nebraska, part of Hughes’ job has to do with emergency response. In November 2014, for instance, the NDA confirmed a health issue in cattle on a couple of Nebraska farms. Hughes and his team immediately went to work to enact a quarantine of the farms and determine the source of the disease and prevent any further issues.
“Those are the kinds of events we try to prevent from occurring,” he says. “Keeping all animals in Nebraska healthy is important for all citizens. Healthy livestock are a significant part of our economy.”
Advances For ‘The Toolbox’
The protection of animals has come a long way in recent years, according to Hughes. He has seen great strides in his nearly 35 years in the industry.
“There have been incredible technology advances, specifically in diagnostics,” Hughes says. But Hughes and the NDA team also need the support of veterinarians across the state. Hughes says the efforts of the state’s food animal veterinarians are critical to supporting NDA’s animal health protection goals.
“Nebraskans in our cities and towns may not think animal health is important to them, but it truly is. Our job is supporting the livestock industry, which supports the Nebraska economy.”