Bird flu outbreak could threaten US cow-cuddling craze

A cow-cuddling craze in the US could be under threat due to a bird flu outbreak.

The social media trend involves punters paying to snuggle up to a herd - while also helping small farmers cover feed bills.

For visitors, it can be therapeutic.

However, cuddles with cattle could be under threat after bird flu was confirmed among dairy herds in nine US states.

Scientists believe it might actually be more widespread across the country's 26,000 licensed dairy farms.

In Texas, a dairy worker has tested positive for the virus but the risk of human infection remains low, according to government officials.

Those same officials are urging cattle and dairy farmers to limit outside visitors.

New sanitation measures and access limitations have been introduced in the state of Michigan.

While the emergency response order does not explicitly prohibit cow-cuddling, officials are not recommending it.

Director of Michigan's department of agriculture and rural development, Tim Boring said: "From a human to animal health standpoint, now is not a good time to cuddle cows.

"This is to protect the cows and people," he added.

Restrictions could mean economic difficulty for some small family farms.

Henk De Vor said his farm in northern Michigan "already [has] safety measures in place". His hour-long sessions book up weeks in advance and cover the insurance bill.

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Luz and Dan Klotz in Illinois, who own Luz Farms, also have protective measures to ensure the safety of their visitors and to keep their farm operating.

One hour of cow cuddling pays for one bale of hay - enough to keep their small herd fed for a week.

"It helps a lot," Mr Klotz said.