Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza seems to have led to an outbreak of misinformation and misunderstandings. Here are some of the most common myths about the avian influenza outbreak.
Myth: Turkey prices will rise.
Truth: Prices for whole turkeys have risen 3% since mid-April. Boneless, skinless breast meat (used in lunch meat) prices have risen 10% in the same time period. Turkey remains a healthy, economical protein.
Myth: There will be a Thanksgiving turkey shortage.
Truth: While the bird flu outbreak has been devastating to farmers involved, it has only affected 2.5% of annual turkey production in the US. And most of the birds affected have been larger toms instead of the smaller hens that are traditionally marketed at Thanksgiving.
Myth: Poultry is unsafe to eat.
Truth: Every flock is tested for avian influenza before going to market. This practice was put in place long before this outbreak. There is no reason to worry about the safety of poultry in the wake of avian influenza.
Myth: Only big “factory farms” get bird flu.
Truth: As of 5/27/15 there have been 179 cases reported in the US, and 18 of them (10%) have been “backyard” flocks. Some experts believe there may be more backyard cases that have not been reported. Small, backyard flocks are less likely to be tested than larger flocks.
The turkey farms affected have all been family farms, many of which have been raising turkeys for generations. The farmers and industry have done everything possible to prevent an outbreak, and experts are unsure how the virus is spreading. When more research is available, changes may be made in housing or farm management to prevent a similar outbreak in the future.
Since the first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was confirmed in Minnesota in March, poultry farmers in the Midwest have been living in fear.
There has always been a risk that disease would affect our farms, so we do everything we can to prevent it. We raise our turkeys indoors so they can’t comingle with wild birds. We restrict visitors that may unknowingly bring germs inside. And we wear clean clothing and footwear in our barns.
But unfortunately, that’s not always enough to keep an outbreak from occurring.
Turkey farmers have dealt with disease outbreaks before. And sometimes, they have been serious. But none match the devastation caused by HPAI, or bird flu, as it is commonly called.
What’s different about bird flu?
Highly pathogenic avian influenza is concerning for several reasons.
1. It’s spread by wild birds who show no symptoms. Because of the number of cases in the Mississippi Flyway, the migratory pattern for wild waterfowl in the Midwest, it is safe to assume that at least part of the wild waterfowl population here are infected. But there is no way to know without a blood test.
2. There is a 21 day incubation period, during which time poultry may be infected, but do not show any signs. This is concerning because a farmer may have an infected flock and may spread it to another flock without knowing.
3. It is highly pathogenic for poultry. After the incubation period, there are few symptoms before birds begin dying. And once they start dying, it’s a matter of days before the entire flock is affected.
This can be emotionally devastating to a farmer. Farmers put the care and well-being of their livestock at the top of their priority list. Can you imagine walking into a barn and seeing that half your flock had died overnight? It would be heartbreaking, and has been for many farmers involved.
As always, farmers are working hard to prevent the disease in their turkeys. And scientists are working overtime to figure out why the disease has become such a problem this year, when it has not been in the past. For now, the best we can do is continue to care for our turkeys as we always have, and hope for the best.
***There is NO food safety risk associated with avian influenza and only minimal human health risk. This strain of the virus has NOT infected any humans. Iowa’s Turkey Industry Facts:
• 130 turkey farms
• Raise over 11 million turkeys every year
• Ranks 9th in US turkey production
• Each turkey adds more than $20 to Iowa’s economy.
• Total economic impact of raising and processing turkeys in Iowa is over $1.5 billion.
Turkey Farms Affected:
(turkey numbers are rounded to the nearest 1,000)
4/14/15 Buena Vista County 1 with 27,000 turkeys affected
4/24/15 Sac County 1 with 34,000 turkeys affected
4/29/15 Buena Vista County 2 with 41,000 turkeys affected
4/29/15 Buena Vista County 3 with 41,000 turkeys affected
4/30/15 Pocahontas County 1 with 17,000 turkeys affected
4/30/15 Cherokee County 1 with 45,000 turkeys affected
5/1/15 Buena Vista County 4 with 30,000 turkeys affected
5/1/15 Sac County 2 with 43,000 turkeys affected
5/1/15 Pocahontas County 2 with 33,000 turkeys affected
5/1/15 Buena Vista County 5 with 63,000 turkeys affected
5/1/15 Cherokee County 2 with 54,000 turkeys affected
5/4/15 Buena Vista County 6 with 34,000 turkeys affected
By Bethany Baratta
When Don and Pat Daufeldt started farming part-time in the ‘70s, turkeys were not a part of the plan. At that time, turkeys were just a part of their Thanksgiving dinner.
But a representative from Louis Rich contacted the Daufeldts and noted their location in relation to their nearby processing plant, which is now West Liberty Foods, just a mile from their farm.
“They picked here because it was close to the plant where they were going to use the birds versus hauling them,” Pat said.
Having no background in the industry, Don, who had worked at Eastern Iowa Light and Power for 16 years, said the opportunity was appealing because it would give him an opportunity to be home more with his family.
The first poults arrived at the family’s farm on Jan. 30, 1988.
Now, the turkey farm has allowed their three sons and their families the opportunity to grow turkeys. Sons Brent and Bryan started a turkey farm of their own and raise approximately 60,000 turkeys per year. Brad works with his parents on the family’s farm, where they raise 110,000 turkeys per year.
The sons had their first experiences on the turkey farm doing chores and helping load the turkeys when it was time for the birds to make their way to the processing plant.
The family also had the unique experience of raising turkeys to be presented to President George H.W. Bush to be pardoned before Thanksgiving in 1991.
“We separated 25 of them into an old lean-to,” Brad recalls. “We were hand feeding them and trying to get them tame.”
The routine included frequent baths in soap and water and walks around the farm with a twine leash.
Eventually, two toms were picked for the flight to Washington, D.C., to be pardoned by the president. After pardoning, the turkeys were sent to a nearby farm to live.
The next generation
The experiences raising turkeys on the farm stuck with Brad.
While other students in his classes at the University of Iowa were deciding what to do after college, he had a plan.
“They (Don and Pat) encouraged us to at least come back even though it has its challenges and growing pains,” Brad said.
The family said they enjoy the challenges associated with turkey farming and learning something new with each new flock, including the 19,500 poults that arrived to the farm recently from a hatchery in Ohio. Each poult arrives to the farm weighing a mere 4 grams.
“I think it’s the challenge (that keeps us going),” Pat said. “Every flock is different. So you always try to have this flock do better than the last.”
While automatic feed and watering systems have increased the farm’s efficiency, there’s one thing, they say, that technology can’t replace. “I think the one thing you cannot upgrade is walking through the barns every day and doing chores,” Don said.
This includes ensuring that feed and watering systems are in proper working order, adjusting the temperature inside the barns and checking for mortalities.
Loading the 40 to 43 pound birds onto semis for processing is still a process, the family says. Loading the birds is done in the span of two days now. When the family first started, it took 18 semis and a week to get every bird to the plant.
The farm has increased its energy efficiency by replacing its high pressure sodium light bulbs in their barns with fluorescents. “We cut our electricity almost in half by just going to the different lights,” Don said.
And though the family has been in the business for more than 25 years, they haven’t stopped learning, they said.
After the family lost half of its flock to Newcastle disease about two and a half years ago, the family is on constant alert. With the processing plant nearby, they know their flock is at higher risk of catching a disease with every truck and trailer that drives by their farm and with every bird that flies onto the farm.
Brad has learned more about diseases through industry-sponsored educational sessions. He’s able to learn more about turkey nutrition as well.
Indeed, the family has witnessed challenges in the industry: the fluctuation of grain and turkey prices, government regulations and labor shortages. Good neighbors
In 2012, the family was recognized as recipients of the Gary Wergin Good Farm Neighbor award. The award, sponsored by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, recognizes Iowa livestock farmers who take pride in caring for the environment, their livestock and being good neighbors.
And while consumers won’t find turkeys from the Daufeldts’ farm on their dinner table at Thanksgiving this year, Don says the family is proud of its work in the industry.
“When I first started this back in 1987, the last thing we ever thought about was that we would be part owners of a company like West Liberty Foods and supplying the nation with turkey.”
*Reprinted with permission for the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.
This week is National Ag Week, with a big celebration today for National Ag Day. Our Iowa Turkey Federation board members are devoted to agriculture, whether they are active on the farm, or part of an allied company that works with farmers.
We asked a few of them why they’re involved in agriculture and their answers speak for themselves. From a family heritage of farming, to a love of problem solving, agriculture offers opportunities for people to do what they love and focus on their values every single day.
Russ Yoder, Vice President of the Iowa Turkey Federation and farmer
“It leads back to family heritage. My Grandpa started raising turkeys back in ‘36 and, it’s just so fun to look back over history to see how far we’ve come and where we’re going. I just really enjoy being part of the family farm and look forward to passing it down to my children.”
Ross Thoreson, President of the Iowa Turkey Federation, Midwest Sales Representative for Best Veterinary Solutions
I grew up on a turkey farm, but never really thought I’d stay in agriculture. When I was on the turkey farm growing up, I paid about as little attention to that as I possibly could. I went to college, into something completely different, but decided to come back and get involved with the family business, and it’s been the best move I’ve ever made and have enjoyed it ever since. I extremely enjoy the people I get to be with on a daily basis. It’s a great industry to be in.”
Gerald Lessard, Vice President and COO of West Liberty Foods
I’m involved in agriculture because I enjoy advancing solutions against challenges. And agriculture as a whole is very challenging. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with livestock every day or you’re a row crop farmer or a journalist or a banker, every day’s a different challenge. And I appreciate the fact that solutions can be advanced towards agriculture. There’s a lot of attention to detail in agriculture that I don’t think the normal public understands, whether it’s in manufacturing or providing food foreverybody’s table. It’s the challenges – that’s why I stay in agriculture.
I had no plans to return to the farm. I was bound and determined I would NOT marry a farmer, but – I married a farmer. I would say the greatest part of agriculture, even though I’m not in the turkey barns every day or seeing with animals every day, is that you can be involved in agriculture in so many different ways. It’s not set in stone you have to do this, that or the other, there are a lot of opportunities.
Lynn Schable, Tyson Foods
I’ve been with Hillshire (now Tyson) for 20 years, and what I enjoy looking at is the whole gamut. From the time those turkeys are placed in the barn and all the things that have to happen to make that work, all the way to getting the food into the consumer’s plate. It’s a very interesting, complex and dynamic process. And there’s so much that happens from Day 1 to get the meat to the consumer…I just think it’s a fascinating industry.
Tim Kasinger, Valley of the Moon Commercial Poults
I started on a farm, a dairy farm, and did that for a few years when I got out of high school. After college, an agricultural company was hiring and my dad said, “Go work for them, you’ll move up fast.” (I didn’t.) But, of all the jobs I know, agriculture is the only one where you’re rewarded for hard work. It’s the only one. Everything else, politics come in to play and to a certain extent, that’s probably true in our industry as well. But if you work hard and do your job in agriculture, you’ll be rewarded. It’s the greatest job there is.
Henry County, located in rural southeast Iowa, has an economy largely powered by agriculture. Just over twenty percent of the jobs in the county are related to agriculture, and over half of those are in the livestock industry.
The area is well-known for its turkey production. Ben Leichty is one of the area’s turkey farmers. In 2008, Leichty joined his uncle Kevin on the 3rd generation family farm and put up two of his own turkey barns.
The site is located on the top of a small ridge and had nothing blocking the wind. When he learned about the Green Farmstead Partner program at an Iowa Turkey Federation area meeting, his interest in planting trees was piqued.
While the idea of planting trees to improve the aesthetics of the farm and serve as a windbreak and natural snow fence interested him, Leichty had concerns. Namely, he didn’t want to attract birds that could potentially carry diseases to the site, nor he did want trees that would require a lot of long-term maintenance. Other concerns included making sure trucks could get in and out of the site easily and avoiding impacts on surrounding farm ground.
After researching and reading studies about poultry farms in other states that have successfully planted trees and learning about the suggested separation distances from the barns, he decided if a tree planting was done properly, his worries could be laid to rest. At that point, he decided to move forward.
In the spring of 2011, over 120 Techny Arborvitae and Black Hills Spruce wereplanted on the north and west sides of the turkey barns to serve as a windbreak. The site is located on a county highway, so Leichty decided to include ornamental trees by the driveway for extra visual appeal. Egli Landscapes, headquartered out of Waylandand located only a few miles from Leichty’s farm, designed the plan and planted the trees. The trees were purchased from Kelly Tree Farm of Clarence. Both Egli Landscapes and Kelly Tree Farm are involved in the Green Farmstead Partner program and have extensive experience in windbreaks and landscaping.
“I’m glad I put them (the trees) in when I did and didn’t wait,” Leichty said, reflecting on the last four growing seasons. He added that if he were to start over from scratch, he would do many things exactly the same – he is especially happy with the decision to mulch the entire row (instead of just around each tree) because it made mowing simple.
The only thing he says he might do differently is to add an irrigation system. The first two summers after the trees were planted were exceptionally dry, so Leichty watered the trees by hand on a weekly basis. By the third growing season, he felt comfortable lessening the frequency of watering.
The attention to detail – from quality trees, to exceptional installation, to maintenance – has paid off. Of the 120 trees planted, only one has died. Another tree had bagworms briefly, but after removing them from the tree and a cold winter that killed the bagworms, they have not caused any more issues.
After only four years, the trees are starting to accomplish what Leichty set out to do. “Several people have said the trees and farm look nice,” he said, adding that the trees are starting to drop snow and serve as an effective windbreak. He added that despite his initial concerns, he hasn’t seen an increasein rodents or birds due to the presence of the trees.
He says the advantage of using the GFP program was “being able to get information on trees, make sure they would work with a livestock building, and ensure they would be a wise investment. (The program) connected me with other people who knew about trees.”
Leichty encourages other farmers considering a tree planting on a livestock or poultry farm to “make sure you follow the recommended set-back distances and work with someone knowledgeable about trees so you do it right the first time and don’t take away from your investment in the future.”
To learn more about the Green Farmstead Partner program, or to get started on a tree planting for your farm, visit www.supportfarmers.com/greenfarms or call 800-932-2436.