Bird flu has local poultry producers on alert

Staff Writer

    Although the lone reported cases of bird flu in Indiana detected late last week were several hundred miles from Adams County, turkey producers and other agribusinesses in Northeast Indiana and Northwest Ohio are nonetheless on high alert.
    Indiana State Board of Animal Health spokeswoman Denise Derrer said Sunday that laboratories confirmed the bird flu strain on 10 infected farms in Dubois County is H7N8, a potentially less severe strain than was found last year near Columbia City and also in the state of Minnesota.
    Thousands of turkeys on the infected farms in DuBois County were euthanized over the weekend. Confirmation of new bird flu cases alarmed industry officials after the spread of the H5N2 virus last year. That led to the deaths of about 48 million turkeys and chickens.
    Many Adams County turkey producers have contracted with Cooper Farms, based in Van Wert County. The company provides the birds, the local producers provide the facilities and labor.
    Cassie Jo Arend, marketing director for the company, said Monday that Cooper Farms officials “obviously are on high alert” in the wake of the Indiana bird flu cases.
    “We are very vigilant about our bio-security procedures,” Arend said. “We are working very closely with our producers and have been in contact with them to encourage them to follow the procedures already in place.”
    Arend said the outbreak “is not a public health threat, but it is a very real challenge for the poultry industry as a whole.”
    Adams County Commissioner Kim Fruechte some two years ago erected four poultry buildings that today house 24,000 turkeys. On Monday he said the bird flu outbreak has created quite a buzz among local producers and agribusiness owners.
    While poultry producers stand to suffer financially should the bird flu strain find its way north, Fruechte said he also received a telephone call Monday from an area grain elevator owner who also feared the spread of the bird flu could devastate his business.
    But Fruechte seemed confident that the chance of the bird flu traveling northward was, while not impossible, highly unlikely.
    “DuBois County is real close to Louisville (Kentucky),” Fruechte said. “And there is a lot of marshy area and wetlands there. The bird flu is spread by migrating waterfowl, cranes and other birds. And because it has been a milder winter than usual, many of the migrating birds have not traveled as far south as they normally would. But as the weather gets colder, I think the birds will go farther south and the chances of it (the bird flu) coming here is not as prevalent.”
    But with the turkey industry currently on high alert, Fruechte said day-to-day precautions have increased.
    “We’ve had to button things up,” he said. “As soon as we go into one of our (turkey feeding) buildings, we have to take off our shoes and put on boots and coveralls that can only be worn in that building. Before we leave the building we have to disinfect our hands, change back into our shoes, walk 100 feet to the next building and do the same thing all over again. And NOBODY (except authorized personnel) is allowed in the buildings.”
Insurance is available locally,  
through Lloyd’s of London

    Fruechte said officials at Cooper Farms have assured producers they will still be paid, even in the event the bird flu would wipe out an entire flock.
    “But even if that’s the case, new regulations require that a poultry house must set idle for four months if a flock there is euthanized,” Fruechte said. “And that’s half of our yearly income.”
  He said some insurance companies now offer policies to protect poultry producers from a portion of the financial damage that could result from a bird flu epidemic .    In Adams County, Bixler’s Insurance and Farm Bureau are offering those coverages — both through Lloyd’s of London. “And it’s available at a reasonable cost,” Fruechte said.
  But that doesn’t mean local poultry producers are breathing any easier.
  “It a real issue. It really scares you,” Fruechte said. “It’s your livelihood.”
    “We realize that if it’s indeed of wild bird origin, they know no boundaries so we want to make sure that everyone is properly informed,” Brent Marsh, Indiana’s state veterinarian, told reporters over the weekend.
    Bird flu cost the U.S. poultry industry an estimated $3.3 billion in 2015 as farmers had to destroy infected flocks and halt production for months. Importers also cut back on trade in the $5.7 billion poultry and egg export market, and some have already limited shipments because of this new outbreak.
    “In the poultry business, there’s a positive determination that this new strain not have any chance at proving what it might be able to do,” said Keith Williams, a spokesman for the National Turkey Federation, told Reuters News Service.