Have chickens_ stay alert during avian flu season – news – ag journal online – la junta, co – la junta, co

Last year’s avian flu outbreak was a big blow to the U. S. poultry industry, but widespread interest in backyard chickens continues to flourish. It’s been roughly one year since a few isolated cases of highly pathogenic bird flu snowballed into an epidemic, eventually affecting 15 states and leading to trade restrictions, event cancellations and, most importantly, mountains of dead birds — more than 34 million — that required disposal. Josh Payne, the state extension poultry specialist for Oklahoma, had a front row seat on the catastrophe. He went to the Midwest to help with the recovery effort last year, and he’ll be ready to assist if the problem flares up again. “We’ve set up a national avian influenza composting team with 20 individuals nationwide who are ready to respond, and I’m one of them,” he said recently. “We’ve also written standard operating procedures for how to handle the situation if it happens again.” Last year’s avian flu epidemic is now considered the single largest animal health emergency in U. S. history, with a cost to the federal government of somewhere around $1 billion. Payne spoke about his experiences helping with the response effort during the first ever Northwest Oklahoma Backyard Poultry Conference. Payne showed photos of how dead birds were piled up in windrows, two to a barn, with another pile of corn stover in between them. All three piles were mixed together to make a single windrow down the middle of the chicken house. “Within two weeks it had turned into a black humus material, and within 28 days it was compost ready to spread on the fields,” he explained. Inside the piles, the compost reaches 130 to 150 degrees, effectively killing even the most virulent flu virus, he said. “Viruses don’t like the heat,” he said. “That’s why I’m still feeling a little anxious right now. I’ll feel better about where we’re at come July.” Around 10 percent of the nation’s laying hens were lost to the flu outbreak last year, causing egg prices to spike. Prices are just now returning to normal. The outbreak also claimed 6.5 percent of turkeys and 6 percent of replacement pullets. Concentrated in the Midwest and along the West Coast, the disease was widely attributed to wild fowl that migrated to the Arctic region, co-mingled with birds from Southeast Asia and then brought the virus back to North America. Though the impact was most pronounced on large poultry farms, at least 21 backyard flocks nationwide were also infected, Payne said. Additional cases might have gone unreported. The pathogen has already made a return appearance in 2016, leading to the euthanization of around 350,000 domestic birds in Indiana back in January. That strain was different from the one that occurred the previous year, Payne said. It appears to have been successfully contained.

Page 2 of 3 – In recent months, biosecurity protocols have been getting more emphasis from livestock specialists and poultry associations. Payne reminded those in attendance of the basics: keep domestic birds away from migrating water fowl like geese or ducks, avoid tracking fecal material between farms, clean and disinfect coops regularly and quarantine any birds for 30 days if they’ve been at a show or a swap meet. While the avian flu epidemic was a staggering setback for the industry, it hasn’t diminished the enthusiasm for backyard flocks. Jeff Watkins, feed department manager for Farmers Grain Company of Pond Creek, a meeting sponsor, said the past five years saw a resurgence of interest in where food comes from and how to produce it. This spring he is on track to sell nearly 500 chicks at Willow Country Store, an old style gas station and feed store the co-op owns and operates in Enid, Oklahoma. Dana Zook, Oklahoma’s northwest district livestock specialist, said the high level of interest convinced her it was time to organize a district-wide event. The trend is allowing the extension service to reach out to a segment of the public it hasn’t been in contact with before. It’s also a chance to emphasize the importance of food production and how difficult it can be. At the meeting, experts didn’t shy away from the realities of disease, predators and frequent death, giving everyone a taste of what a poultry project would entail. “You have to be blunt,” Zook said. “It’s not all fluffy and romantic. It’s not for the faint of heart.” Tommy Puffenberger, an ag agent in nearby Alfalfa County, was pleased by the level of interest, especially the number of young people who attended the meeting. Among them was Summer Finney, of nearby Jet, who was demonstrating how to candle eggs at a trade show booth. Finney said she hopes to have over a dozen chickens this summer on her family’s 100-acre property and sell eggs at two area farmers markets. She was also thinking about doing a community service project by hatching out eggs and giving chicks to those who had lost their own chickens in the recent Anderson Creek Fire that burned nearly 400,000 acres in northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas. Denise Turner drove all the way from Anthony, Kansas, to attend. She’s been keeping chickens for the past five years and wants to try raising a few birds for meat as well. She said there was satisfaction in growing your own food and tasting its freshness. “The chickens are fun and interesting,” she added. “I had no idea.” As for the avian flu scare, it was low on her priority list compared to the predators stalking her free-range hens.