Avian flu is devastating poultry farms, egg production in California


PETALUMA, Calif. (AP) — Last month, Mike Weber got the news every poultry farmer fears: His chickens tested positive. avian flu,

To comply with government regulations, Weber's company, Sunrise Farms, had to cull its entire flock of egg-laying hens – 550,000 birds – to prevent other farms in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, from being infected with the disease.

“It is a shock. We are all suffering as a result of this,” Weber said, standing in an empty chicken coop. “Petaluma is known as the egg basket of the world. “It is devastating to see that basket of eggs catch fire.”

Bird flu spread after a year record egg prices And due to widespread shortages, a disease known as highly pathogenic avian influenza is wreaking havoc in California, which survived earlier wave of the outbreak Which devastated poultry farms in the Midwest.

The highly contagious virus has devastated Sonoma County, where officials have declared a state of emergency. Over the past two months, about a dozen commercial farms have had to destroy more than 1 million birds to control the outbreak, dealing an economic blow to farmers, workers and their customers.

Merced County in Central California has also been hard hit, with outbreaks at several large commercial egg producing farms in recent weeks.

Experts say that bird flu is spread by ducks, swans and other migratory birds. Waterfowl can carry the virus without getting sick and can easily spread it through their droppings and nasal secretions to chicken and turkey farms and backyard flocks.

California poultry farms are implementing strict biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of the disease. State veterinarian Annette Jones urged farmers to keep their flocks indoors through June, including organic chickens that need to go outside.

“We still have migration continuing for the next few months. So we have to be as vigilant as possible to protect our birds,” said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation.

The loss of local chickens caused egg prices to rise during the holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, before supermarkets and restaurants found suppliers from outside the area.

While bird flu has been around for decades, the current outbreak of the virus that began in early 2022 has prompted officials to cull about 82 million birds, mostly egg-laying hens, in 47 U.S. states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. whenever the disease is detected the whole herd is slaughtered To help limit the spread of the virus.

The price of a dozen eggs more than doubled to $4.82 at its peak in January 2023. Egg prices returned to their normal range as egg producers built up their flocks and the outbreak came under control. Turkey and chicken prices also increased, partly due to the virus.

Hold for use with moving stories 12:30 a.m. ET Saturday, January 27, 2024—Aerial view of AnnaMarie Peterson's farm, where she has a flock of about 50 chickens that produce and sell eggs.  He worries that his flock may be infected with avian flu.  Thursday, January 11, 2024 in Petaluma, California.  A year after bird flu caused record egg prices and widespread shortages, the disease known as highly pathogenic avian influenza is wreaking havoc in California, which escaped a previous wave of the outbreak.  Which devastated poultry farms in the Midwest.  (AP Photo/Terry Chia)

Hold for use with moving stories 12:30 a.m. ET Saturday, January 27, 2024—Aerial view of AnnaMarie Peterson's farm, where she has a flock of about 50 chickens that produce and sell eggs. He worries that his flock may be infected with avian flu. Thursday, January 11, 2024 in Petaluma, California. A year after bird flu caused record egg prices and widespread shortages, the disease known as highly pathogenic avian influenza is wreaking havoc in California, which was spared a previous wave of the outbreak. Which devastated poultry farms in the Midwest. (AP Photo/Terry Chia)

A worker carries crates of eggs at the Sunrise Farms processing plant in Petaluma, California, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, which has seen an outbreak of avian flu in recent weeks.  A year after bird flu caused record egg prices and massive shortages, the disease known as highly pathogenic avian influenza is wreaking havoc in California, which escaped the previous wave of outbreaks that ravaged the Midwest. Poultry farms were destroyed.  (AP Photo/Terry Chia)

A worker carries crates of eggs at the Sunrise Farms processing plant in Petaluma, California, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, which has seen an outbreak of avian flu in recent weeks. A year after bird flu caused record egg prices and massive shortages, the disease known as highly pathogenic avian influenza is wreaking havoc in California, which escaped the previous wave of outbreaks that ravaged the Midwest. Poultry farms were destroyed. (AP Photo/Terry Chia)

“I think this is an existential issue for the commercial poultry industry. At this point the virus is on every continent except Australia,” said Maurice Pitesky, a poultry expert at the University of California, Davis.

Pitsky said the risk of outbreaks is increasing due to climate change as changing weather patterns disrupt the migratory patterns of wild birds. For example, last year's extraordinary rainfall created new habitat for waterfowl throughout California, including areas close to poultry farms.

In California, the outbreak has affected more than 7 million chickens in about 40 commercial flocks and 24 backyard flocks, according to the USDA, with most of the outbreaks occurring on the North Coast and Central Valley over the past two months.

Industry officials are concerned about the growing number of backyard chickens that could become infected and spread avian flu to commercial farms.

“We have wild birds that are full of the virus. And if you expose your birds to these wild birds, they can become infected and sick,” said Rodrigo Gallardo, a researcher at UC Davis who studies avian influenza.

Gallardo advises owners backyard chickens Wear clean clothes and shoes to protect your flocks from getting infected. If an unusual number of chickens die, they should be tested for avian flu.

Ettamarie Peterson, a retired teacher in Petaluma, has a flock of about 50 chickens that lay eggs and sell them for 50 cents each from her backyard barn.

"I'm very concerned because this avian flu is spread by wild birds, and there's no way I can stop wild birds from coming in and leaving the disease behind," Peterson said. “If there is a case of this in your herd, you have to destroy the entire herd.”

Sunrise Farms, which Weber's great-grandparents started more than a century ago, was infected despite taking strict biosecurity measures to protect the herd.

"This virus got to the birds so badly and you got it in so quickly that the birds died," Weber said. "Heartbreaking doesn't describe how you feel when you come in and perfectly healthy young birds are put out."

After euthanizing more than half a million chickens at Sunrise Farms, Weber and his staff spent the Christmas holidays discarding the carcasses. Since then, they have been cleaning and disinfecting hen houses.

Weber hopes the farm will get approval from federal regulators to return the chicks to the farm this spring. It will then take another five months for the hens to become mature enough to lay eggs.

He considers himself fortunate that the two farms co-owned by his company have not been infected and are still producing eggs for their customers. But recovering from the outbreak will not be easy.

“We have a long road ahead of us,” Weber said. "We're going to give it another go and try to keep this family of employees together because they've worked so hard to make it into this company."



Source link

Leave a Comment