Home » UK poultry specialists urge continued biosecurity despite Avian flu decline

UK poultry specialists urge continued biosecurity despite Avian flu decline

Poultry is a $1 billion agribusiness sector in Kentucky
Free range chickens live at the Feltner 4-H Youth Development camp. Photo by Matt Barton

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Although cases of the most recent Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak are declining, University of Kentucky poultry specialists urge commonwealth flock owners in Kentucky’s highest cash receipts agribusiness sector to remain vigilant.

Broiler production brought $1.03 billion to Kentucky in 2021, according to the state Agriculture Development Fund website. There are 928 large-scale poultry farms in 44 counties, much of it in Western Kentucky. About 300 million broilers (meat-type chickens) are raised on Kentucky farms annually. Nearly 6 million laying hens produced $145.2 million in egg sales. There are 672 Kentucky turkey farms. Cash receipts for turkey sales in 2021 were $24.8 million. While HPAI was once a rare occurrence, poultry producers have had to deal with it more frequently in recent years.

“This is not the time to relax biosecurity measures on the farm,” said Tony Pescatore, poultry specialist and chair of the UK Department of Animal and Food Sciences. “We have had a few cases in Kentucky with the most recent ones in small flocks. More recently there has been a positive small flock in a neighboring county in Indiana. With correct management, growers can minimize the chances that HPAI will affect their flock.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed HPAI 833 flocks as of May 9. The disease is responsible for killing nearly 59 million poultry birds in 47 states.

Pescatore said that while the millions of sick birds mentioned in the media sounds astounding, the number represents a very small percentage of the total U.S. poultry population.

Preventing HPAI is a big deal,” he said. “It has hit some commercial growers in the country very hard. Poultry is very important to the Kentucky economy. We have a lot of poultry growers with very large flocks, quite a few small flocks and backyard flock owners. Everyone, no matter their flock’s size, must be proactive about protecting their birds from HPAI.”

Pescatore said all growers should follow simple FLU biosecurity and prevention guidelines.

F—Flock observation—Early detection helps stop the disease’s spread. Growers should observe flocks daily and note changes in appearance, behavior, and drinking and eating habits.

L—Limit traffic—Contaminated clothing and equipment spreads avian influenza between poultry premises. Growers should keep a log of visitors and vehicles on the farm. Be aware of places visitors may have had contact with birds or their droppings such as hunting lands, ponds, pet stores, zoos and parks. Visitors can unknowingly bring disease to the farm.

“It’s good practice to ask farm visitors and workers to put on clean boots to keep from spreading disease,” Pescatore said. “Cleanliness is just so important to prevent and contain HPAI.”

U—Unwanted critters—avian influenza can spread through infected birds’ feces and bodily fluids. As such, growers should prevent poultry from encountering wild birds. Keep vegetation mowed around poultry houses and coops to help control wild birds and rodents. Keep all other animals out of the chicken house. Growers should isolate new or returning birds from the rest of the flock for at least 30 days.

Pescatore emphasized that these recommendations also protect flocks from other poultry diseases.

It’s also essential for growers to recognize signs of avian influenza. Some of these include sudden death; drop in water consumption, little to no appetite or energy; little to no egg production; soft or deformed eggs; nasal discharge; coughing, sneezing, or breathing difficulty; swelling around the head, neck and eyes; purple discoloration; loss of muscle control; drooping wings; twisting of the head and neck; inability to move and diarrhea. Birds may have the disease for three to seven days before they show signs, and death can occur between 24 and 48 hours after the first sign.

“Many of the symptoms can also be related to other more common poultry ailments,” Pescatore said. “Unfortunately, birds infected with HPAI don’t survive. If you observe unusual symptoms or many deaths in your flock, contact your local veterinarian or the UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.”

The UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory will test poultry samples for a $50 fee. The UK VDL and the Murray State University Breathitt Veterinary Lab are certified through the National Animal Health Laboratory Network to handle HPAI cases.

“Our two Kentucky labs are certified, fully trained, supplied and ready to respond should an outbreak occur in our state,” said Alan Loynachan, UK VDL director. “The Kentucky Poultry Federation, the office of the Kentucky State Veterinarian and the Kentucky poultry industry all work closely together.”

The UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has several publications about avian influenza and poultry production available at https://afs.ca.uky.edu/poultry.

Pescatore said growers should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state or federal officials, through their state veterinarian or U.S. Department of Agriculture Sick Bird Hotline at (866) 536-7593.

—By Aimee Nelson, UKnow

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