By Gillan Ludlow
Poultry Times staff
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — An outbreak of the avian influenza swept across the Midwest this spring and left the egg farming community reeling. Thirty-five million egg-laying hens, 8 million turkeys and 5 to 6 million pullets — chickens that are a day old to 19 weeks — were affected due to the outbreak.
Broiler chickens, which are used for meat, were not affected as much because there aren’t many broiler farms in areas where the flu occurred. Broiler chickens are sent to the market around six weeks old; and younger birds are less susceptible to the bird flu than older birds.
The flu is highly contagious among birds, especially domesticated, and can be spread by rodents; vehicle, human, and foot traffic; migratory birds and air.
“Egg farmers affected by AI this spring have been working diligently and are making good strides toward resuming egg production,” said Chad Gregory, president and CEO of United Egg Producers (UEP), in a press release.
If a farmer suspected that one or more of his birds had the flu, samples were sent off for testing, Gregory said. If the samples came back positive, it took about two to five days for the flu to kill off the farm’s flock of birds.
The USA Poultry & Egg Export Council reported that lost exports of poultry and egg products to other countries totaled almost $390 million during the first half of the year.
Farms who are trying to repopulate must now increase biosecurity measures and prepare for a possible return of the virus during the fall migratory season. Measures for the farms will include stringent cleaning and disinfecting regulations as defined by the USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.
According to UEP, key areas of biosecurity will focus on increased protocols for controlled movement of workers, birds, vehicles, and equipment; ensuring feed and water are not at risk for contamination; and limiting contact with domesticated and wild birds.
It may take up to 80 weeks for farms to fully repopulate because flocks are rotated to meet customer needs for eggs on a constituent and on-going basis. An illustration provided by UEP shows a timeline that demonstrates the steps of repopulation to consumers, food processors and retailers.
“We pledge our best efforts to overcome this setback and rebuild a healthy and viable egg industry,” Gregory said. “It is vital that we continue to work diligently and collaboratively to protect the health and well-being of our flocks, egg farms and rural communities.”