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Iowa chicken, turkey farmers on ‘high alert’ for avian flu as fall migration begins
The bird flu destroyed 13 million Iowa birds this spring, but was far less devastating than the 2015 round
With wild birds beginning the fall migration southward, Iowa’s chicken and turkey farmers once again are on high alert for avian influenza.
This year’s version of the bird flu resulted in the destruction of more than 13 million birds in Iowa this spring.
While significant, that was not nearly as devastating as the 2015 version of the avian flu, which resulted in the destruction of more than 31.5 million chickens and turkeys in Iowa, and resulted in a $1.2 billion hit to the state’s economy, according to one report.
Nonetheless, Iowa bird farmers will be watching their flocks closely in the coming weeks. Wild birds are believed to be the primary carriers of this year’s version of the avian flu, and are in the early stages of their annual fall migration.
New cases have been identified throughout the Midwest in recent weeks: at poultry farms in Minnesota and Ohio, and backyard flocks in Wisconsin and Indiana.
Iowa agriculture secretary Mike Naig said Iowa officials and bird farmers and backyard flock owners are hopeful the virus will not make a return during the fall migration, but also are being cautious and realistic, given the cases recently identified in other Midwest states.
“Unfortunately, it tells us that the virus is once again in that wild bird population. There are no suspected cases in the state of Iowa, as of now, but unfortunately we are returning to a sense of very much heightened awareness and taking a defensive posture,” Naig said. “Unfortunately, I would not be surprised if we are dealing with it again in Iowa.”
Naig said the lessened impact of the virus this spring can be attributed in part to lessons learned from the devastation of 2015. That year, 77 sites were hit by the avian flu; this spring, only 19 sites were affected.
“If you dealt with it, it’s devastating. For every one of those entities that did, it’s financially devastating, it’s emotionally draining, and all of those things are true,” Naig said. “But when you look at what happened in Iowa earlier this year vs. 2015, significantly fewer sites affected and significantly fewer birds affected. …
“Poultry producers learned a lot in 2015 about the needed to enhance biosecurity.”
Naig also said he believes the government response, particularly the state and federal ag departments, also learned lessons from and improved upon their 2015 response efforts.
Kevin Stiles, CEO and executive director of the North Central Poultry Association, said Iowa poultry farmers will be leaning on that enhanced biosecurity as they remain on high alert for the coming weeks and months.
“Our producers have remained on high alert throughout the summer months and will continue to do so into the fall and this winter,” Stiles said in an emailed statement. “Heightened on-farm biosecurity is the poultry farmer’s best ally, as they work to safeguard their flocks. We remain in close contact with USDA and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and we are grateful for their support.”
Naig said he spent part of his Friday morning meeting with groups that represent Iowa chicken and turkey farmers to discuss their attempts to keep this latest version of the avian flu at bay.
“What went well, what didn’t go as well as we’d hoped it would, and then what are the action steps? You hope that that can be done in a complete look-back setting,” Naig said. “Unfortunately, the tone (Friday) morning was, ‘We may be needing to apply these lessons sooner than we thought.’”
Avian flu information for Iowa bird farmers and backyard flock owners can be found at iowaagriculture.gov.
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