Oklahoma Farmers Take Steps To Protect Flocks From Bird Flu

Tuesday, May 3rd 2022, 10:13 pm

A large bird flu outbreak is forcing state officials to ban sales of live birds, as well as swaps and exhibitions until the end of July to try and slow the spread of the highly contagious and deadly disease.

"We understand that this is at the very least an inconvenience and in some cases, much more than that. It's impacting people's business in a lot of cases," said Dr. Rod Hall, ODAFF State Veterinarian. "I'm hopeful that maybe by the end of May we can remove it as the birds get on out of here as temperatures warm up which helps to kill that virus."

Oklahoma is the 31st state to deal with this disease. "We don't want those stores to just have to euthanize those little chicks that they have. We're telling them that they can go ahead sell the chicks that they have in stock, but please do not order any more or bring in anymore until we get this ban on co-mingling off," said Dr. Rod Hall, ODAFF State Veterinarian.

A chicken farmer near Tahlequah said this could be devastating for people like him. "Anybody with chickens is responsible for stopping this thing before it gets out of hand," said Ed Haworth, American Poultry Federation VP. "It is a monster deal."

State veterinarians said a wild duck from Payne County tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza a month ago and they've spent weeks testing birds through a program called "sick bird, dead bird", which is mainly aimed at backyard poultry folks.

"We do a lot of testing in our backyard birds because we believe they're the most susceptible due to the commercial poultry industry typically having better biosecurity than the backyard flocks do," said Dr. Hall.

Last weekend, they found another case at a commercial poultry company in Sequoyah County. Friday afternoon, ODAFF was notified that the company had an increased death loss in one of its flocks. They took samples to the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab in Stillwater which were overnighted to USDA lab in Iowa. The outbreak was confirmed Saturday.

"The company was very proactive. They went ahead and depopulated that flock," said Dr. Hall. Dr. Rod Hall said an inspector went out to verify there was a location on site suitable for burial and the entire flock was euthanized and disposed of. They have continued cleaning and disinfecting.

Experts said the virus is not a safety risk when food is cooked properly, and none of the affected birds have entered the food supply. "That's gonna drive prices of poultry products up in the grocery store. It's gonna impact everybody," said Haworth.

ODAFF continues testing birds and has set up a control zone as well as a surveillance zone in the county. "We draw a couple circles around the location. The first one is 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles, and that's called a control zone and there are 6 other commercial poultry premises in there," said Dr. Hall. "That surveillance zone has about 32 more commercial poultry premises."

State officials report commercial poultry is located primarily in the eastern 1/3 of the state, adding that over 3,700 farms produce some type of poultry. They said poultry is the 3rd most valuable livestock commodity in Oklahoma which ranks 12th in the nation for broiler production.

Dr. Alicia Gorczyca-Southerland said it's most common in waterfowl and shore birds, but this year even raptors are dying. "We've had several reports of bald eagles unfortunately succumbing to this virus," said Dr. Alicia Gorczyca-Southerland, ODAFF Assistant State Veterinarian.

Dr. Gorczyca-Southerland said the bird flu is spread through feces, saliva, and nasal secretion, as well as equipment, clothing, hands, feet, shoes, and tires. Common signs include sudden death, respiratory symptoms, neurological signs and discoloration of the comb, wattle, feet, or legs.

She said the virus can survive in the environment for a while; in an aquatic environment or feces -- weeks or even months. She stressed the importance of biosecurity: preventing contact with wild birds, keeping birds indoors or inside a coop for next month, blocking access to ponds, and cleaning equipment.

Ed Haworth is doing whatever he can to keep his show chickens safe. He moved everything away from water sources where wild waterfowl go. "I don't have people in. I don't go to other people's places. We're just gonna kind of ride this out and isolate ourselves," said Haworth.

His baby birds stay inside while adult chickens are kept in outdoor cages with roofs to protect them from flying bird droppings. "I've got this one particular strain of birds that I've kept genetically pure for this is the 49th hatching season on them. If they were to have to come in here and destroy my flock I would lose 50 years of blood, sweat and tears that would never be gotten back," said Haworth. "I would probably just quit."

Dr. Hall asks folks with backyard birds to let ODAFF know they have birds and to report any suspicious deaths. He said farmers forced to depopulate their birds can seek reimbursement from the USDA.

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