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Avian flu scare

By Staff | May 17, 2015

Eva Adams shown in her chicken coop, above.

The phrase avian flu has become an everyday topic of discussion, especially in the Midwest. And while it appears no farmers in Faribault County have been affected, precautions are starting to be taken, even by backyard poultry farmers.

“I know I?did some research about all of this when I?first found out,”?Eva Adams says.

Adams, of Winnebago, admits she did have some concerns about the avian flu outbreaks.

Adams and her husband, Mark, live on a farm just outside of Winnebago and in the summer could have more than 300 chickens and 20 to 25 turkeys. Some chickens are layers which are raised year round while others are called broiler chickens which are raised through the summers.

According to an article released by the University of Minnesota Extension Office, Avian flu started to become prevalent in December 2014 when cases of the H5N2 virus were reported in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Arkansas, Missouri and Minnesota.

However, since March of this year, there has been an outbreak of cases which has only continued to grow as an issue.

In fact, the H5N2 strain has caused more than 130 cases in the country since December with approximately 85 cases being recorded in Minnesota.

Those 85 cases span across 21 counties in the state, according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health’s website which they update regularly with statistics.

And, although Faribault County is not listed in those statistics yet, the reported cases are starting to get close to home.

One case was reported in Watonwan County which affected a commercial turkey farm of 30,000 birds. Others reported near Faribault County include one confirmed case in Steele County, two in Cottonwood County and one in Nobles County.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Census of Agriculture taken in 2012, Faribault County has 12 poultry farms. So, the potential for the outbreak to move into the local farming community is there.

Although the Adams, of Winnebago, are not considered commercial poultry farmers, they have a lot to worry about just like any other farm in Faribault County raising chickens or turkeys.

“I have been watching them (her chickens),” she added.

Many times there are very little signs of the H5N2 flu other than sudden death. But, sometimes symptoms in the flock can include: sneezing; lack of energy; drop in egg production; swelling around the eyes, neck, and head; or purple discoloration of wattles, combs, and legs.

If poultry farmers notice any of these signs they should report the case to someone.

“I?would call the veterinarian,”?Adams adds.

Which is just what the U of M Extension recommends, calling the local veterinarian or the USDA at (866) 536-7593.

The current strain of avian flu reportedly comes from wild birds. Poultry which are raised outdoors or with outdoor access are at a greater risk for contracting avian flu.

However, the poultry farms with more staff in contact with the birds can also spread the virus.

“We don’t have as many people in and out of our farm,”?Adams added. “And the chickens don’t have access with other wild ones (birds). I think that helps out a lot.”

The avian outbreak seems to have had a great impact on producers. If one of their birds is infected it could wipe out their whole flock.

“After looking into some of the avian flu I heard that it’s common for them to have to destroy the animals,”?Adams says.

A?situation like that could set a commercial farmer back quite a while in their operation.

However, how does this affect the consumers looking to purchase eggs, turkey, chicken or other poultry products?

Well, according to the National Turkey Federation, with an annual production of 240 million turkeys in the United States, individuals will have no problem finding poultry products at a comparable price as the avian flu has affected less than one percent of the turkey population.