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
Total Turkeys: 458,506