Avian flu impacts local poultry producers
JANESVILLE—Dan Gorecki has about 3.5 million chickens in his care.
Dale Wheelock looks after between 50 and 100 chickens and turkeys, depending on the time of year.
Both producers take extensive precautions to protect their flocks from all diseases, and especially from the highly deadly avian flu.
On Monday, the Wisconsin Department of Agrcultre, Trade and Consumer announced avian flu had been found in a commercial flock in Jefferson County.
State officials have quarantined the premises, and the 180,000 remaining birds there will be killed to prevent the spread of the disease.
Officials stress there is no risk to public health and no danger to the food supply.
Scientists suspect the disease, which originated in Asia, is being spread by migratory waterfowl.
Commercial poultry operations are big on biosecurity, and scientists are still trying to figure out how the bird flu makes it to such operations.
At S & R Egg Farm, a third-generation family business in Whitewater, workers wear rubber boots and walk through a special water bath before they go into the barns, said Gorecki, chief financial officer.
When workers move between units in the same building, they walk over another disinfecting pad of dry powder.
How worried are they about it?
“I guess you're always worried,” said Gorecki.
Bill MacFarlane, of MacFarlane Pheasants, was already feeling the impact Monday morning.
As a result of the avian flu being found in Wisconsin, Canada and the European Union banned imports of poultry from Wisconsin. At about the same time the ban went into place, MacFarlane had 107,000 pheasant eggs at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago ready for transport to England and France. The eggs were for hatching at farms.
The truck was turned away.
“That was the first of about seven shipments,” MacFarlane said.
The irony is that MacFarlane Pheasants is considered a leader in biosecurity for game farms.
MacFarlane Pheasants has been doing voluntary testing and surveillance for avian influenza for about 15 years.
The announcement of the ban left him feeling shocked and numb.
“This hasn't been the best morning,” MacFarlane said.
Even though the disease has been found in backyard chicken flocks, the risk to them is low, the USDA said.
Still, it's better to be safe, said Wheelock, blogger and poultry farmer.
Wheelock, who writes “Ask a Poultry Farmer” for The Gazette, said he doesn't let anyone in his chicken coops.
“If they want to see the birds, I bring them outside,” Wheelock said.
He raises birds for 4-H projects and backyard chicken fanciers.
Wheelock is a state tester for poultry typhoid and pullorum, and he's familiar with how quickly diseases—or something as simple as mites—can spread.
Wheelock, who is a key leader in the Walworth County 4-H poultry project, said all the birds that come to the fair are inspected before they are allowed in the show barn. If a bird looks sick or shows any symptoms of sickness, it is sent home.
He also recommends that any birds that have been to the fair or other competition should be quarantined from the rest of the flock until their health has been confirmed.
No human cases of avian flu have been found in the U.S., but as a precaution the Wisconsin Department of Health Services is reaching out to workers who may have been exposed. Surveillance and testing also are underway at nearby farms.
The disease has cost turkey producers more than 1.2 million birds across the Midwest — including more than 900,000 in Minnesota, the nation's No. 1 turkey-producing state. Still, that only accounts for about 0.5 percent of the 235 million turkeys produced nationally in 2014.
The disease has also struck farms in Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota and North Dakota, and southern Ontario in Canada since early March. Turkeys seem to be especially susceptible to the disease, but animal health officials have said from the start that the virus is dangerous to all commercial poultry.
Avian influenza turned up on several chicken farms in British Columbia, Canada, late last year, and this month in Ontario.
Wisconsin, which typically ranks around 18th among U.S. states in chicken production, exported poultry products worth $4.7 million in 2014.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.