New England Farms Hope to Keep Bird Flu at Bay

Farmers are taking steps to protect their flocks from the spread of disease

Vermont farmers are taking steps to protect their flocks from bird flu, even though the disease has not been detected in the state. In the Midwest, millions of chickens and turkeys have been euthanized in an all-out attempt to stop the spread of bird flu.

The current outbreak has been detected in more than a dozen states and Canada, with Iowa recently declaring a state of emergency because of the problem. It is expected to be the worst bird flu outbreak in United States history, with death tolls to birds possibly surpassing 20-million, according to agriculture officials in the Midwest.

“Our top priority is keeping our birds healthy,” said Judy Adams, a farmer who raises chickens and turkeys at Adams Turkey Farm in Westford, Vermont. “We're just taking all the precautions we can as well as staying informed.”

Because bird flu can be transmitted from flock to flock, Adams is counting on nets to keep wild birds, which are potential disease carriers, out of her barns. She said she has taken other steps, including being mindful of sweeping up grain so as not to attract wild birds such as geese.

“I don't think you can [merely] hope for the best,” Adams told New England Cable News. “I think you've got to plan for this.”

Dr. Kristin Haas, the state veterinarian for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, wants more farmers and backyard bird owners to be as vigilant as Judy Adams.

“I think Vermont is only as prepared as the least-prepared person who owns birds in this state.” Haas warned.

Haas is now urging operations to keep their equipment clean and to avoid contact between their animals and animals from other farms. Haas also asked farmers to report unusual bird deaths to the agriculture agency.

More information on avian influenza is available in this bulletin the agriculture agency recently published here.

Haas told necn that migrating birds who mingle with others over the summer could spread risk when they travel again before Thanksgiving. Of course, that’s prime turkey time for farmers.

“The time of year [farmers] have the most money invested in their birds is—hopefully not, but potentially—the time of the year when Vermont could experience positive cases of this,” Haas said. “Just because Vermont is not currently impacted directly doesn't mean that at some point we couldn't be.”

Haas noted that contingency plans allowing for the continuance of business have helped keep the poultry industry as a whole operating even though some major farms, especially in Iowa, were under quarantine or had to destroy their flocks.

Haas noted that, for now, this bird flu strain doesn't appear to threaten humans, but she pointed out the virus could mutate. She said agriculture officials in the Northeast hope aggressive steps and surveillance in America's heartland help keep the disease’s impact from widening.

“We are all very well connected on this,” Haas said, describing state and federal agriculture officials’ communications in regards to bird flu. “We’re all paying very close attention.”

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