Agriculture experts warn farmers of recent surge in avian flu | Local News

People who raise domestic poultry should take precautions to combat a recent surge in avian influenza, local, state and national agriculture organizations said.

Avian flu is highly infectious and lethal to domestic poultry, including chickens, ducks, turkeys and quail, said Richard Toebe, livestock educator at Cornell Cooperative of Delaware County.

“There have been several cases identified in New York state,” he said.

According to the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, as of Monday, April 11, 7,121 birds have either died of the disease or have been killed to stop the spread in the state since February. While there are no cases yet reported in Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Schocharie counties, cases have been reported in nearby Ulster County.

According to the Associated Press, across the US, farmers have had to kill more than 24 million birds due to bird flu. Because the virus is so infectious and deadly for commercial poultry, entire flocks are destroyed and composted on the farms when they are infected. It is carried by migrating wild waterfowl including ducks and geese, and found in the feces of the birds, the USDA website said. The disease can be transmitted through infected feces, surfaces or the air.

According to the USDA, avian flu has been confirmed in wild birds in every state from Maine to Florida and from Maine to Colorado, except West Virginia. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation website, “avian influenza has never been found in wild turkeys.”

Local agricultural educators said people who own chickens should be on the lookout for the following symptoms:

• Sudden death without clinical signs;

• Lack of energy and appetite;

• Decreased egg production or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs;

• Swelling of head, comb, eyelid, wattles and hocks;

• Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs;

• Nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing;

• Discoordination;

• Diarrhea.

Once a bird contracts the disease, it is 100% fatal and can be quickly spread to others, Toebe said. According to the USDA, it is not a threat to humans.

“If you suspect your flock has these symptoms, contact your local extension agent, local veterinarian, state veterinarian, the USDA at 1-866-536-7593, or state Department of Agriculture and Markets at 518-457-3502,” said Jessica Holmes, agriculture and horticulture educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schoharie and Otsego Counties. “You are required to document all sick domestic bird calls to Ag and Markets.”

Eleanor Jensen, who owns Rich Farm in Hobart with her husband, Scott, said they currently have 50 chickens and are getting ready to raise 150 chicks and are concerned about protecting their flock from the disease.

“We normally let our chickens out in the pasture, but we are keeping them inside,” she said. “We are also restricting who goes inside with the chickens.”

She said they also keep a pair of boots at the barn to change into so they don’t track anything in. She said her grandfather started the farm in 1911 as a large-scale commercial chicken farm.

“We’re a small fraction of that, but still raise chickens,” she said.

Jensen likened this flu outbreak to one in 2015, and said even though that outbreak didn’t infect their flock, what was learned from that nationwide will hopefully prevent this outbreak from infecting their flock and reduce the numbers nationwide. During that outbreak, more than 50 million birds were euthanized, Toebe said.

Holmes and Toebe said people with backyard poultry need to practice biosecurity until the threat of the disease goes away. Toebe emailed the following list of recommendations:

• Establishing an “all-in, all-out” flock-management policy, where only one age of birds is kept on your premise at one time;

• Protecting against exposure to wild birds, water or ground contaminated by wild birds. For many flock owners, that means keeping their flocks indoors until the threat has passed;

• Closing bird areas to nonessential personnel or vehicles;

• Providing poultry caretakers with clean clothing and disinfection facilities and directions for their use;

• Thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting equipment and vehicles (including tires and undercarriage) when entering or leaving the farm;

• Banning the borrowing or lending of equipment or vehicles;

• Banning visits to other poultry farms, exhibitions, fairs, and sales or swap meets (if visits must occur, direct workers to change footwear and clothing on their return);

• Banning bringing birds in slaughter channels back to the farm.

To prevent the spread of avian flu, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets has canceled all fowl shows and exhibitions. It will re-evaluate the decision in May for this summer’s county fairs, Toebe said.

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_VickyK on Twitter.

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