Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is a virus that infects fowl. It is so virulent that it moves quickly between birds and can kill an entire flock in just a few days. Wild birds, domestic poultry, and other animals carry the virus. HPAI is currently considered a seasonal threat, thought to be transmitted from wild waterfowl to domestic poultry as wild birds travel for seasonal migration. Wild bird migration patterns and lower fall temperatures make it very likely that wild birds from recently infected areas in Canada will travel south through the Atlantic flyway through North and South Carolina this fall. Due to the seasonality and severity of the risk, the NCDA canceled all live bird shows and sales between August 15, 2015 and January 15, 2016. This strain of the disease does not infect humans or other livestock.
Many chicken and turkey flocks, pastured and conventional, across the Northwest and Midwest were decimated by the rapid spread of the disease during the spring and early summer of 2015. Coordinated emergency response to the disease by the government has been key to reducing the number of infected birds and reducing farmers’ losses of livestock.
HPAI broke out in December 2014 in the United States and, so far, has affected as many as 50 million birds in 20 states. The Center for Disease Control warns that HPAI occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds and can infect domestic poultry and other birds. Wild aquatic birds can be infected with HPAI without becoming ill (including domestic ducks). The wild bird population transmits HPAI through direct contact (e.g. wild and domestic fowl encounter each other at an on-farm pond) or indirect contact (e.g. people come into contact with infected fowl and carry the virus on clothing, shoes or car wheels to an area with domesticated birds). HPAI is very contagious and can spread through a domesticated flock very, very quickly.
On July 22, 2015, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA) announced (see the press release below) that it wasrequiring all poultry owners, regardless of flock size, to register for a NCFarmID number, under authority of a provision in state law (see below for statutory reference). As of January 7, 2016, this provision is no longer in effect.
The Impact of HPAI on Pastured Poultry Flocks and the Advantages of Pastured Poultry as an Industry Model
Many CFSA member poultry farms raise their flocks outdoors, or at least with significant access to pasture through the bulk of their lives. Most pastured poultry kept for commercial purposes are raised in portable pens or other structures that are used to keep the birds moving on a regular basis. Most would be given fresh, clean pasture at least daily, and sometimes even two or three times each day, along with clean water and traditional mixed-grain feeds fortified with essential minerals.
Pastured poultry producers are keenly interested in promoting bird health and disease prevention as an intrinsic part of their business model. Their birds are being raised in a deliberate and organized way outdoors with the express purpose of maintaining the health of the animals, the land, and even consumers. Simply put, animal husbandry is seen as the key to good health on these farms. In our view, the advantages of raising poultry in this manner, with respect to bird health, are a result of the following factors:
1) Constant availability of sunlight and fresh air
2) Regular exposure to fresh and varied forages
3) Decreased animal stress in general
4) Increased farmer observation and management on a per-bird basis
CFSA, our farmers, and our community of engaged consumers fully understand that we are part of a complex and interdependent food system. We know that our birds and our farms are not immune to the effects of HPAI, and that we are, like everyone else, at the front end of a learning curve on this issue. We will do our part to promote common sense biosecurity measures on farms, in processing facilities and in locations where poultry products are delivered to market.
The Current Situation
March 3, 2017
According to a release from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, on Friday March 3rd, the “United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H7 avian influenza (HPAI) of North American wild bird lineage in a commercial chicken breeder flock in Lincoln County, Tennessee. This is the first confirmed case of HPAI in commercial poultry in the United States this year. The flock of 73,500 is located within the Mississippi flyway.”
What does this mean for growers in the Carolinas?
While this is the closest outbreak to the Carolinas yet, we are pleased to report that there have no been outbreaks detected in the Atlantic flyway which includes North and South Carolina. State and federal government officials responded quickly to the outbreak, and are reporting that they expect to contain the virus as effectively as they were able to during the January 2016 outbreak in Indiana (which did not spread outside of the quarantine zone). The full statement from the North Carolina State Veterinarian, Dr. Doug Meckes is below.
At this time, we urge you to exercise an abundance of caution with respect to biosecurity practices on your farms while caring for your poultry. We recommend being especially aware of biosecurity practices when welcoming visitors to your farm (or home, if you have a backyard flock) and when visiting places other poultry growers may frequent (including feed stores, chick delivery sites, and live bird sales). General practices recommended by industry experts include designating one pair of clothes and shoes that are worn only when working with your flock, disinfecting boots and equipment, washing hands before and after contact with poultry, setting up a separate isolation area for incoming poultry from outside sources for at least 28 days (especially important during spring when many farmers are ordering chicks), and monitoring for changes in bird health and mortality.
This APHIS guide provides a comprehensive list of steps that poultry growers may follow in order to prevent the spread of infection from:
• Humans (hands, hair, clothing, footwear);
• Vehicles (contaminated vehicles and equipment);
• Animals (domestic and wild, including rodents);
• Carcasses (those that are improperly disposed of) and manure, litter, debris, and feathers; and
• Neighboring flocks
Backyard Poultry Owners
Cleaning and Disinfecting Checklist
Cleaning and disinfecting coops and enclosures are important to help keep your birds’ environment healthy. While the process takes some time, your birds are worth the effort.
Use this handy checklist as a guide.
* Move your birds to a separate area so you can do a thorough cleaning.
* Remove all old litter, manure, and other debris.
* “Dry” clean all areas—brush, scrape, and shovel off manure, feathers, and other materials. Disinfectant will not work on top of manure and caked-on dirt.
* “Wet” clean all surfaces—scrub with water and detergent. Work from top to bottom and back to front.
* Rinse all surfaces carefully with water.
* Apply a disinfectant according to the directions on the label. Be sure to use a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectant that is effective against avian influenza virus or other diseases of concern.
* Leave the enclosure empty until it is completely dry. Using fans and/or opening doors and windows will help speed the drying process.
* Clean and disinfect your boots, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when you are done. Wash the clothes you were wearing.
Remember, you are the best protection your birds have.
There is a lot of biosecurity advice available for commercial producers of birds in confinement, but AI avoidance is tough for outdoor flocks. Here are a few suggestions from CFSA member Dr. Julie Gauthier of Chickcharney Farm:
- Fence domestic waterfowl off from ponds where wild waterfowl congregate.
- Don’t use open range feeders from pastured poultry which are attractive to wild birds.
- Plastic Swan decoys are helpful in discouraging wild ducks and geese from landing in farm ponds.
- Bring home only hatching eggs or day-old poultry to replenish or start a flock, preferably from AI clean NPIP participant. Don’t bring home adult birds. Low path AI was spread in the current outbreak by trading/selling adult birds between backyard flocks.
Statement from Dr. Doug Meckes, State Veterinarian
On Friday, March 3, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was notified of a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak in a poultry operation in Lincoln County, Tennessee.
The Veterinary Division and the Emergency Programs Division immediately notified staff within the Department to prepare for possible disease response activities in North Carolina or, if called upon to do so, as was the case in the 2015 HPAI outbreak in Minnesota, to provide support of other states should assistance be required.
The situation in Tennessee was closely monitored over the weekend and staff participated in conference calls each day to remain abreast of the situation. The most recent information provided suggests that the Tennessee disease outbreak has been quickly and appropriately managed and the level of threat to North Carolina and other Southeastern states is markedly diminished.
Many North Carolina families rely on the poultry industry for their livelihoods, and the Department will continue to work closely with local, county and federal partners and the poultry industry to help prevent the introduction of disease or immediately respond should the disease be identified here in North Carolina.
January 19, 2016
The North Carolina State Veterinarian issued a letter to organic poultry producers noting that HPAI has been found in the Mississippi flyway, which includes parts of western North Carolina. In the letter, the State Veterinarian strongly recommends that (1) birds with outdoor access be moved to biosecure housing; (2) that farms implement strict biosecurity measures immediately; (3) monitor bird health carefully; and (4) contact the State Veterinarian with any questions. A copy of the letter is attached below in the section titled “Resources for Poultry Owners”.
January 15, 2016
Today, USDA confirmed an incident of HPAI on a turkey farm in Indiana. While this strain of HPAI is different from the strain that led to the euthanasia of so many birds in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest last spring and summer, the current strain is highly pathogenic. At this time, the NCDA is not reinstating bans on live poultry shows, nor is it reinstating the requirement that backyard flock owners register with NCDA. However, CFSA, NCDA and USDA all encourage poultry owners to take biosecurity seriously. See “Resources for Poultry Owners” (below) for biosecurity resources.
January 7, 2016
Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler announced that the NCDA&CS announced today that the suspension of live poultry shows and sales has been lifted. Troxler also released the registration requirements for small flock owners.
August 25, 2015
NCDA issued a news release announcing that they are holding five regional meetings to inform backyard poultry owners about HPAI. Visit their website for more information on the meetings and to register to attend.
August 24, 2015
The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association cancels the 10th annual Eastern Triangle Farm Tour in order to protect farmers’ livelihoods and their poultry from a possible outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).
NCDA recently updated their website to include more information for small-flock and backyard poultry owners.
The USDA is currently preparing a nationwide response should HPAI cases spike in the fall, including plans for biosecurity, depopulation, disposal, indemnification and repopulation. NCDA is preparing for this eventuality as well.
- Keep chickens, turkeys, quail, guineas and other poultry separately from ducks. Ducks are known reservoirs for HPAI virus and can carry the virus without signs of illness.
- The HPAI virus lives for a long time in cool, moist conditions, so eliminate standing water (which might attract wild birds and waterfowl) in your flock’s pen. Also, make certain your birds do not have access to other water sources that might be visited by wild waterfowl: ponds, streams, lakes. Commingling of domestic poultry with any wild waterfowl creates a real possibility for the spread of HPAI virus.
- Place a cover over your flock’s pen, if possible, to prevent introduction of wild waterfowl droppings into the area your flock inhabits. The droppings of infected waterfowl have very high levels of infectious HPAI virus.
- Feed and water your birds in a protected area to prevent attracting any wild birds. The virus infects many species of birds and can be spread to your poultry through contact with birds carrying the virus on their feet or feathers, though they may not be infected.
- Wear shoe covers or clean boots each time you enter your birds’ pen. This will prevent tracking HPAI virus into the birds’ pen if it is present on your grounds.
- Keep feeders and waterers clean and sanitized often. Wild birds infected with HPAI virus that drink or eat from your flock’s equipment can spread the virus to your flock.
- Do not share equipment with other flocks. If you must share equipment, be certain it is cleaned and disinfected before moving from one premises to another.
- If you purchase new birds, buy only from a reputable NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Plan) dealer. Keep the newly purchased birds separate from your existing flock for at least 3 weeks to rule out any infection that might be present, but not showing signs of illness when the birds were initially purchased.
- Watch your flock closely and know the signs of illness. Poultry infected with HPAI can have various signs of illness: lack of energy and appetite, reluctance to move, decreased egg production, soft or misshapen eggs, discolored comb and wattles, lack of coordination, diarrhea or sudden death. Susceptible birds may die without showing any signs of illness. In a HPAI-infected flock many birds will die within a short time.
- If your flock suddenly becomes depressed and begins dying, please contact NCDA&CS, your cooperative extension office, your local veterinarian or USDA APHIS and report these deaths immediately. You can reach NCDA&CS Veterinary Division at 919-707-3250, or USDA APHIS at 1-866-536-7593.
For more information and a list of biosecurity suggestions for pastured poultry operators from NCDA, visit the NCDA HPAI website.
The USDA recommends several ways to increase biosecurity on your farm, and for your small flock. Visit the USDA APHIS website for general information on biosecurity and for a list of concrete actions that you can take to protect your flock from HPAI. You may want to consider printing and posting this list in key areas on your farm.
For more information on how to keep wild birds from infecting your flock, check out USDA’s Tips for Wildlife Management. If you plan to take steps to reduce the chance that you carry the disease to your flock, consult this list of disinfectants that kill HPAI.
Click here for a map of recent HPAI cases around the country and access to detailed lists of detected outbreaks.
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent, Dan Campeau, shared some information on best practices to maintain biosecurity. He states that the for pastured poultry “it would be best to make sure that your poultry does not have access to any farm ponds or areas adjacent to farm ponds where ducks and geese have possibly defecated. [Growers] may need to think about fencing your farm ponds out so your domestic birds do not have access to ponds or grass around ponds.”
Things you can do as small flock owners:
1. Have a separate set of clothes and shoes to do your poultry chores in.
2. Make sure you change footwear BEFORE you do your flock chores, especially after going to your local feed store.
3. Keep your flocks secure and AWAY from farm ponds and any grassy areas around farm ponds where wild waterfowl might be present.
4. Do not allow visitors to go into your poultry yards.
5. Call the NCDA vet division if you have sick birds and be prepared to take sick birds to the closest NCDA Diagnostic laboratory.
NCDA Press Release
North Carolina General Statute § 106-399.4
In North Carolina, administrative agencies can circumvent the formal rule-making process based on the emergency powers found in North Carolina General Statute § 106-399.4: Imminent threat of contagious animal disease; emergency measures and procedures. This statute authorizes the exercise of emergency powers once there has been a determination from the State Veterinarian that there is an imminent threat of a contagious animal disease within the state. Once that determination is made, the exercise of emergency powers must be approved by the Governor. In the case of this mandate, the determination letter (below) was made July 1st and received the Governor’s approval July 2nd.
South Carolina Department of Agriculture has shared a news release regarding HPAI and what Clemson University Livestock-Poultry Health is doing to educate consumers and producers.