New York farmers vigilant as avian flu spreads

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Highly pathogenic avian influenza is less likely to cause harm to humans, but can devastate chicken flocks. (Phoebe Taylor Vuolo/WSKG)

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — A highly transmissible strain of avian influenza continues to spread, leading commercial poultry and egg farmers to call on backyard chicken keepers to take measures to help mitigate the spread.

The disease is unlikely to be passed on to humans, but can quickly kill and spread easily through domestic birds like chickens.

Christina Hudson Kohler is a fourth-generation farmer at Hudson Egg Farm in Onondaga County. She said the farm takes precautions against diseases regularly, but has ramped up efforts due to this particularly virulent strain of avian influenza.

Hudson Kohler said the farm has not discovered any positive cases of the virus, but if it did, the consequences would be significant. If any of its birds test positive, they will need to euthanize all 250,000 of them.

“You never know who it will be tomorrow,” Hudson Kohler said. “You can have every safety precaution in place, but the wind is blowing and birds are flying overhead. I would just ask you to take it seriously, consider biosecurity, keeping your birds inside. That would be great.”

Hudson Kohler said workers at the farm wash their boots as they exit and enter a barn. They also regularly clean trucks and are not allowing visitors into the facility.

The virus is spread through bird droppings, especially from migratory waterfowl like ducks and geese.

Dr. Jarra Jagne, an associate professor at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, said this makes small backyard flocks particularly vulnerable.*

“Chickens that are raised outside, pastured poultry or just free-range poultry can come into contact with these wild waterfowl and through their feces. The virus is in the feces. They can get infected and that’s what’s been happening in New York state.”

Jagne said chicken keepers should keep birds away from visitors and cover their enclosures if possible.

To date, over a dozen wild birds have been recovered and found to be positive for the virus in New York. Several commercial farms in Pennsylvania have detected the virus in their flocks, leading to over 3 million birds needing to be euthanized in the commonwealth over the past few weeks.

More resources about highly pathogenic avian influenza and how to prevent its spread are available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Defend the Flock program and Cornell University.

*Cornell University is a WSKG underwriter.