Current Progressive Cattle digital edition

Cows and COVID

Jim Walker for Progressive Cattle Published on 29 December 2020

I was asked a little while back, “Can cows catch COVID?” It sounds like an alliterative riddle, but the answer is “yes.” While cows can catch COVID, according to South Dakota State University, they only possess a “medium” chance of doing so (and while we are at it, horses only have a low chance of catching the virus).

But, this should not be alarming or surprising, as cow-calf and dairy producers have dealt with scours and other coronavirus infections for years, perhaps without specifically realizing that these viruses are in the same vein as the present COVID-19 virus. And, more importantly, historically, these animal coronaviruses stick to their own species and do not cross over to other species, including humans, very easily because of each virus’ specific molecular makeup of “spikes” (or crowns, hence the Latin name “corona”) on the surface of each different version.

Now, since molecules and viruses can mutate at an alarming speed, this doesn’t mean that a person with COVID can be negligent around their livestock, any more than around other humans – no need to tempt fate. And, trying to be protective of the herd and proactive may lead you to use antibiotics, which raises the issue of potential antibiotic resistance – a huge club for the anti-meat, anti-medicine crowd – and has led to the antibiotic-free and all-natural marketing of meats. Let’s be clear, antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, not viral (virus) infections like the coronavirus. And, when needed, there is nothing wrong with selective and limited use of antibiotics. It is the preemptive vaccination of the entire herd that has people questioning overuse of antibiotics that could lead to resistance.

And, on the subject of our anti-meat friends, let’s update an article I wrote last year about the emerging “fake meat” industry and the so-called benefits its inventors (not growers) and investors (including Cargill and Tyson) are touting. No less than the new-age, “green” publication Fast Company is debunking the idea that a meat-free world will save the planet. An article in November 2020 by Arianne Cohen quoting Polly Erickson, program leader of sustainable livestock systems at the International Livestock Research Institute, said “Meat production itself is not the problem. Eliminating meat from our diet is not going to solve [the environmental] problem.” 

Ms. Erickson and her co-author then go on to devote 17 pages to a range of emissions-lowering efforts more impactful than people not eating meat, including specialized animal feed that lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and better managed grazing lands around the world. Bottom line, the “fake-meaters” who are pushing lab designed and produced chemical-veggie meat replacements have other agenda items on their plates, like being uncomfortable with the whole concept of dispatching live animals for our sustenance. No doubt, this same crowd is against hunting as well and fail to see how allowing animals to reproduce unchecked will more rapidly destroy our environment than any responsible meat producers ever will. If they don’t think so, I invite them to come to my place in Texas and see the damage wild (or should I say “free range”) hogs are doing to our environment.

I hope each of you had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And, as always, my advice is to grow your herd and keep them (and yourself) healthy, for land’s sake!  end mark

Jim Walker is a farmer, rancher and all-around thorn-in-the-side with Land's Feed Warehouse in Grand Saline, Texas, who opines on current events affecting the cattle industry. Email Jim Walker.