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Northwest Iowa Dairy Outlooks

A local discussion of current science and issues concerning dairying in northwest iowa

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has reported that in January  highly pathogenic H7N8 avian influenza (HPAI) was found in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana.  This is a different strain of HPAI than the strains that caused the 2015 outbreak.  There are no known cases of H7N8 infections in humans.  As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 ˚F kills bacteria and viruses, including HPAI.

Lessons learned from the 2015 outbreak are serving to bring faster responses among producers, industry and governmental agencies.

Worldwide, there are many strains of avian influenza (AI) virus that can cause varying degrees of clinical illness in poultry. AI viruses can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl, as well as a wide variety of other birds. Migratory waterfowl have proved to be a natural reservoir for the less infectious strains of the disease.

Waterfowl follow four major avian flyways in North America, and Texas sees migratory birds from two of them, the Central and Mississippi flyways; in addition, the Prairie Pothole region lies between both flyways at the US and Canadian border and serves as a hub for viral gene flow. With the potential start of a new outbreak, local flock owners should be on alert.

These virus strains can travel in wild birds without them appearing sick. People should avoid contact with sick/dead poultry or wildlife. If contact occurs, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds. All bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, should continue to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, either through their state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593

The clinical signs of birds affected with all forms of AI may show one or more of the following: Sudden death without clinical signs; Lack of energy and appetite; Decreased egg production; Soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks; Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs; Nasal discharge; Coughing, sneezing; Lack of coordination; and Diarrhea. It is important to note that many birds with LPAI may not show any signs of disease.

Exposure of backyard poultry to migratory waterfowl and wild birds plus the movement of poultry, poultry equipment, and people pose risks for introducing AI into local flocks. Once introduced, the disease can be spread from bird to bird by direct contact. AI viruses can also be spread by manure, equipment, vehicles, egg flats, crates, and people whose clothing or shoes have come in contact with the virus. AI viruses can remain viable at moderate temperatures for long periods in the environment and can survive indefinitely in frozen material.

Officials have been quick to respond with surveillance, voluntary testing and outreach, but discovered a new challenge with the number of urban chickens and other backyard birds in urban areas in Texas. The Texas Department of Agriculture knows how many commercial poultry operations exist around the state, but that’s not the case with city chickens.

“Backyard bird owners are often hesitant to come forward to report deaths and illness because they are not sure who to contact, they are not sure if their concerns matter, and they may fear quarantine and lose of their entire flock,” notes Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent Fred M. Hall in Tarrant County. Information on how to protect local flocks is available on the Tarrant County Extension website at: http://agrilife.org/urbantarrantag/links

“We cannot stress it enough: Biosecurity!  Biosecurity!  Biosecurity!” says Hall. Here are the best management practices for flock owners:

  • Foot traffic into your barns is one way the virus can be introduced to your flock. Limit overall traffic to your facility if possible.
  • Clean boots, coveralls and equipment after each use and make visitors wear clean boots and clothes that have not been exposed to other birds.
  • Make sure your barns are tight from birds entering your barns.
  • Avoid convenient stores, feed stores or farm stores where farmers, tourists and hunters frequent.
  • Avoid contact with water fowl and their feces. This includes the water they are in, even if the birds are not present.
  • Remember that highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza can travel in wild birds without the birds appearing sick.
  • Do not stack, store or expose any of your equipment or supplies outside where manure could be deposited from birds flying over.

The virus’s incubation period is 21 days which means bird owners need to be especially vigilant for three weeks if exposure is suspected.

Anyone involved with poultry production, from the small backyard to the large commercial producer, should review their biosecurity activities to assure the health of their birds. To facilitate such a review, a biosecurity self-assessment and educational materials can be found at http://www.uspoultry.org/animal_husbandry/intro.cfm

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