Nebraska poultry sector readies fight against bird flu

WOWT Live at 10
Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 11:04 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska’s booming poultry industry is being proactive to avoid a huge and costly outbreak of bird flu.

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture confirmed a flock of backyard poultry in Merrick County has been hit with bird flu, 10 days after a wild goose in Lincoln was found to have the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus.

“It’s popped up in South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin — and in Wisconsin, they just depopulated 3 million laying chickens,” said Don Reynolds, veterinarian and Nebraska Extension specialist. “So we have a tremendous amount of poultry to protect here in Nebraska.”

During the 2014-2015 bird flu outbreak in the U.S., 50 million chickens and turkeys died or had to be destroyed to stop the disease from spreading.

“We did not suffer nearly as much as Iowa and Minnesota,” Reynolds said. “But since 2015, we have a lot more poultry in the state of Nebraska. Lincoln Premium Poultry, the Costco operation, that’s 100 million broiler chickens a year, approximately, and the early estimates were that would bring 1.4 billion dollars into Nebraska, so it’s just huge. We have a lot to protect here.”

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture is charged with leading the fight here. Working with the USDA farmers and poultry producers, they are asking everyone to keep an eye on all birds and report any unusual behavior.

”This virus spreads very easily so it’s difficult to control right now,” said Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. “(It’s) spread by the wild birds, and it’s migratory season, so there’s a lot of bird movements and these wild waterfowl can carry disease and not really be affected by it.”

Wellman is communicating with agriculture officials in neighboring states and even zoos with wide-open spaces that can serve as flyways for migratory birds.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium closed its aviary to the public as a precaution.

”What we want to do is make sure are birds are safe from avian influenza, and not showing illness,” said Dr. Sarah Woodhouse, director of animal health at the Henry Doorly zoo. “But we also want to be good community members and not provide a situation where we’re amplifying and spreading avian influenza.”

Keeping the avian flu in check through spring, when those migrations lessen, is an immediate goal.

And all experts we spoke to emphasized the need for all farmers and poultry handlers to be diligent about what’s known as biosecurity.

”It’s an animal disease but humans can be a carrier of this through contact on their shoes, clothes, equipment that they used to care for their poultry,” Wellman said.

“In the 2015 outbreak that caused so much damage, most of that spread was due to people, personnel,” Reynolds said. “Hopefully we’ve learned a lot of lessons from that.”

Both Reynolds and Wellman encourage people to contact their offices or their veterinarians if they have questions or concerns about any animals they see or come in contact with.

Copyright 2022 WOWT. All rights reserved.