By Matthew R. March, MNRD
Polk County Extension Agent
Have you noticed the high prices for eggs these past few months? Many consumers have associated these high prices with supply chain issues and inflation. While supply chain issues and inflation are causing some effect on egg prices, the real culprit is bird flu. At the end of November bird flu had killed over 52.3 million birds according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, mostly from commercial chicken and turkey flocks. While the bird flu has not directly killed all these birds, many are euthanized to help prevent the spread once a flock tests positive for this highly pathogenic and economically devastating disease of commercial poultry flocks. With less hens laying eggs, supply had dwindled, thus increasing the demand and price of eggs.
Bird flu, or avian influenza, is a disease found in waterfowl and other species of wild birds. Most wild birds carry a low pathogenicity strain, which is very common around the world, causing little concern. However, wild birds are also a source of a highly pathogenic strain, and once it finds its way into poultry flocks, the results are catastrophic as nearly 100% of all infected chickens and turkeys will die. In fact, bird flu is considered such a high priority threat to the nation’s commercial poultry flock and food supply that once a flock is confirmed positive, the flock must be euthanized to help eradicate the disease.
Outbreaks occur occasionally around the world and the U.S. Prior to 2022 the last significant outbreak in the U.S. occurred in 2014-2015. The current outbreak started in January 2022 when waterfowl on the eastern seaboard were confirmed to have the highly pathogenic strain of bird flu. The first confirmed commercial poultry flock infection occurred on Feb. 8 on a turkey farm in Indiana. Since that time the virus has been confirmed in poultry flocks in 46 states. Texas has had four confirmed cases in poultry with the first being on April 2 and the most recent being on Dec. 3. Three cases have been from non-commercial poultry flocks. The fourth was a commercial pheasant flock. So far, the total number of poultry infected in Texas is 2,030.
Even though Texas has been spared the worst of bird flu so far, you should take proactive measures to protect your backyard flock. Backyard poultry flock owners should want to protect their flock not only to prevent illness, but to help minimize the spread to other flocks. To protect your flock, practice the following:
Eliminate opportunities for your birds to interact with wild birds. We know that wild waterfowl are carriers of the disease. The best way to avoid diseases that wildlife carry is to keep domestic animals separated from the wild.
If you have birds at home, do not visit another farm, home or facility that also has birds. If you must visit other premises, be sure to shower and put on clean clothes and shoes beforehand.
Remember that vehicles can be vehicles for disease transmission. Before you drive down the road, consider where you are going. Will you be heading to the fair, another farm or a live bird market? If the answer is yes, be sure your vehicle is clean and free of dirt, manure and other organic material.
Early detection can help prevent the spread of disease. Knowing the signs to look for and monitoring the health of your birds on a regular basis is very important. Some signs to look for include nasal discharge, unusually quiet birds, decreased food and water consumption, drop in egg production, and increased/unusual death loss in your flock.
Bird flu is a serious and devasting disease. Not only can it devastate poultry flocks, it can threaten the commercial poultry industry and the nation’s food supply. Always report sick and dead birds immediately. If your birds appear sick or you have experienced increased mortality, immediately call your veterinarian or the Texas Animal Health Commission.