Backyard coops at risk for avian flu this fall

A Raleigh backyard chicken braces for fall

A Raleigh backyard chicken braces for fall

RALEIGH – The N.C. Department of Agriculture is holding public meetings to warn backyard poultry owners about the possibility of a highly contagious avian influenza outbreak this fall.  In five regional avian flu prevention community meetings across North Carolina, veterinarians from N.C. State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will give an overview of the outbreak in the U.S.

“From what we’ve seen in the Midwest, this is a very contagious and deadly virus and if it is introduced into a flock, we expect that there will be 100 percent mortality rate,” said Jennifer Kendrick, spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “So we want to make sure small flock owners have the information to make informed decisions to keep their flock safe.”

Veterinarians from the Agriculture agency will also talk about how the state plans to protect commercial poultry and how owners can protect their small backyard flocks. Since December 2014, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI, has killed nearly 50 million birds in 21 states. The birds show few signs of illness until 24 hours before death and usually cannot be treated. Veterinarians say that contact with waterfowl flying south for the winter poses the most risk to North Carolina poultry.

“We want to convey the seriousness of this disease to backyard owners to help them understand that their flocks are at as much risk, if not more, than commercial flocks because they are exposed to wild birds that may introduce the virus to our state,” said Kendrick.

The commercial poultry industry would be especially hard hit in the event of an avian flu outbreak in North Carolina. A study by the U.S. Poultry Federation says that the N.C. poultry industry is worth up to $34 billion in overall economic impact to the state. With such a high mortality rate, the Agriculture Department says that an outbreak would be catastrophic.

“Infected farms will be out of business for a minimum of one month, but very likely several months. That means a lot of people will be out of work, feed drivers won’t be delivering feed, equipment dealers won’t be selling equipment and parts, mortgages and car payments will have to be skipped,” said Kendrick.  “Farms that have been in a family for generations may be lost. That is the reality that we are facing.”

As an emergency measure against disease spread, the department has banned all poultry shows, including displays at the N.C. State Fair, and is now requiring all North Carolina poultry owners to register their flock regardless of size. The registry is free and the department says it is a way of contacting owners in the event of an outbreak near them.  However, some poultry owners oppose the registration, calling it government intrusion. An opposition group has starting a Facebook page that now has more than 900 followers. The community meetings will be open to the public and meeting organizers say all are welcome as they try to address rumors and concerns.