By Joel Penhorwood and Matt Reese
Over the past month, waterfowl migration in different parts of the country has led to a new spike in highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) cases and the depopulation of more than 7.6 million birds nationwide. In recent weeks there have been 94 confirmed cases of bird flu in 26 states, including Ohio, according to USDA. A Union County commercial layer facility and a Darke County commercial turkey facility with a combined nearly 1.4 million birds have been depopulated since Nov. 21, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Unfortunately, Ohio already had some experience with the grim realities of poultry depopulation. Last winter, Dennis Summers, DVM, Ohio’s State Veterinarian, spoke at the Ohio Pork Congress and shared some lessons learned from the previous challenges with HPAI in Ohio. The depopulation process is emotionally, financially and physically challenging for everyone involved, but it is necessary to protect all the other livestock or poultry in the area.
“It’s not something that we like to talk about but it’s a necessary part of our response to be able to protect all of our livestock industries. When you have to depopulate animals, you’re going to have to use multiple modalities. Again, be flexible and reasonable with the ability to have multiple simultaneous methods because speed is of the essence,” he said. “We have to make sure this gets done quickly and in the most efficient and appropriate manner as we can for the safety of protecting the industry. The longer it takes, the more likely the virus is to spread, the more likely that is to jeopardize all of our livestock industries. Then, what do you do with all that organic material? You’ve got carcasses, you’ve got manure, you’ve got eggs you’ve got all this stuff that is essentially contaminated with virus and it’s going to last a little while. You’ve got to be really cognizant of that and to maintain biosecurity while you’re trying to dispose of tons and tons of biological material. Onsite composting is something that we really need to be focusing on. You really have to sit down and take some time to start calculating out the amount of land space and land access it takes to compost that much material and then all the manure on top of it.”
With depopulation, it is important to have realistic expectations and a plan ahead of time. For example, according to The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, composting 150,000 birds onsite requires a mulch pile measuring 7 feet high, 100 feet long and 100 feet wide on roughly a quarter of an acre — approximately 2,600 cubic yards of mulch or other amendment material. Mulch and space requirements are even higher for hogs and other livestock.
“It takes time. You have to get everything done in the timely manner but it doesn’t happen as quick as you’d think. You’ve got hurdles that you have to go through in terms of government contracts and contracts with vendors,” Summers said. “If you don’t have a plan and you’ve not thought this thing through, you’re going to have trouble containing it. You need to be actively engaged in thinking about what to do to prevent the virus from coming on but then, if by chance the farm becomes an infected premises, now you have to think about how to keep the virus on the farm. You have to think about the changing mindset.”
Once infected, the goal is to contain the virus on the farm.
“You jeopardize the industry as a whole if that virus were to move off your farm and it can very easily happen. You need to move with speed and efficiency in an appropriate and professional manner and not having some of those prepared plans may slow down the regulatory response for USDA to help with indemnity or compensation in any way to try to facilitate getting the eradication completed,” Summers said. “It will all slow down if there’s nothing prepared on the front end. It’s really hard for a scenario like that where you’re trying to not only develop but also simultaneously implement a response in terms of getting depopulation or disposal.”
It is also important to note that HPAI is not a concern for humans. The ODA emphasizes no human cases have been detected in the United States. Products from any HPAI-affected flocks are prohibited from entering the food system. Proper handling and cooking of all poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F is recommended as a general food safety precaution.
Biosecurity and best management practices for HPAI include:
• Prevent contact with wild birds and waterfowl. Keep birds indoors when possible.
• Keep visitors to essential personnel only. Only allow those who care for poultry to have contact with them and make sure they follow biosecurity principles.
• Wash hands before and after contact with live poultry. Use soap and water. If using a hand sanitizer, first remove manure, feathers, and other materials from hands.
• Provide disposable boot covers (preferred) and/or disinfectant footbaths for anyone having contact with your flock. If using a footbath, remove all droppings, mud or debris from boots and shoes using a long-handled brush BEFORE stepping in. Always keep it clean.
• Establish a rodent and pest control program. Deliver, store, and maintain feed, ingredients, bedding, and litter to limit exposure to and contamination from wild animals.
• Use drinking water sourced from a contained supply (well or municipal system). Do not use surface water for drinking or cleaning.
• Clean and disinfect tools and equipment before moving them to a new poultry facility. Trucks, tractors, tools, and equipment should be cleaned and disinfected prior to entering or exiting the property. Do not move or reuse anything that cannot be cleaned.
• Look for signs of illness. Monitor egg production and death loss, discoloration and/or swelling of legs, wattles and combs, labored breathing, reduced feed/water consumption.
For more from ODA on HPAI, visit: https://agri.ohio.gov/divisions/animal-health/resources/02.25.2022HPAIUpdate. If a flock has high unexplained/abnormal mortality, contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture at (614) 728-6220 or after hours at (888) 456-3405.