Alaska flocks have not yet been stricken by the largest avian influenza outbreak to hit the poultry industry in history.
The risk is still there for infection on a local scale.
“Biosecurity measures in Alaska can reduce the risk of spreading highly pathogenic avian influenza found in the Lower 48 and Canada to farms in Alaska,” said Alaska State Veterinarian Robert Gerlach. “The active surveillance in Alaska has not identified any outbreaks in domestic or wild birds so far.”
Shelled eggs and breaker eggs, which are produced specifically for liquid eggs, lost 10 percent of the entire U.S. industry’s flock, Gerlach said. The U.S. turkey flock lost 7 to 8 percent and 6 percent of pullet flock, which are the chickens bred to replace the actively laying hens, but are still too young to produce, he said.
The main three strains, H5N8, H5N2 and H5N1, are not considered threats to human health, and can be inactivated by cooking poultry to 165 degrees, according to a Division of Environmental Health release in the Alaska Division of Agriculture’s June newsletter.
So far nearly 50 million laying hens, turkeys and pullets that have either succumbed to the disease or were slaughtered to prevent further transmission, Gerlach said.
Alaska flocks are at risk because wild birds that have contracted the flu from within Canada or the Lower 48 can spread the diseases, Gerlach said. With large events such as the Alaska State Fair or the Kenai Peninsula Fair coming up at the end of the summer, poultry farmers should be careful to keep their animals clean and aware of any potential health concerns, he said.
The Kenai Peninsula will not experience a loss so massive simply because there are no local large-scale-operations, said Executive Director for the Kenai branch of the Alaska Farm Bureau Amy Seitz.
However, if an infected wild bird lands in a “backyard flock,” the small operations most common on the Kenai Peninsula, it has the potential to wipe out the entire stock, Seitz said.
The practice of raising poultry is rising in popularity, Seitz said. More producers have enough laying hens to sell off their extra eggs through word of mouth and at local farmers markets, she said.
Because of how avian influenza is spread, through the intermixing of domestic and wild birds, there is concern for the future of local flocks, Seitz said.
At this time, extra biosecurity precautions are extremely necessary, Gerlach said.
The Office of the State Veterinarian has issued a few quarantines throughout the state on flocks that had suspected outbreaks, or exposure to infected birds, but the quarantines were released when tests for avian influenza were negative, Gerlach said.
If any birds have a suspected illness, call a veterinarian, seek a diagnosis immediately and separate the animal from others, Gerlach said.
Don’t leave feed out that could attract wild birds and wildlife, clean and sanitize equipment and keep an eye on domestic birds to prevent them from intermixing with wild birds.
Sterling’s End of The Road Farm owner Tricey Katzenburger said she is not too concerned for her 40 laying hens at this point. She started raising chickens and goats two years ago to feed her family better, and now sells between 9 and 12 dozen eggs weekly, mostly through word of mouth.
Katzenburger said the biggest health threat to her chickens is lice, which is easily treatable with antibiotics. She turns to other local farmers and organizations such as the Kenai Local Food Connection when looking for resources on safe practices.
The Alaska Division of Environmental Health Office of the State Veterinarian responds to questions from producers regarding sick birds and biosecurity issues, and can help local operations that may have concerns of infection among their birds, Gerlach said. The division can also help educate producers on safe management of flocks, he said.
Local Cooperative Extension Services are also good resources for catching up on safety procedures, Gerlach said.
“The bottom line is that this is a complicated problem,” Gerlach said. “If it were easy the outbreak would have been controlled right away.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.