All 72 of the commercial turkey and chicken operations hit by the avian flu have been released from quarantine and can start to bring in new birds, but a poultry industry spokesman says it could take up to two years before every operation is back to normal.
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says all the facilities had to wait 21 days after being disinfected before they could lift the quarantine.
“Quite an ordeal, it’s good to be at this stage. Everyone knows that it’s very, very important to have full surveillance on right now to be able to look for any birds that could possibly be impacted by the migration of wild birds bringing the disease back through as well,” Northey says. There were 31.5 million birds impacted by the bird flu, including 35 commercial turkey flocks, 22 commercial egg production flocks, 13 pullet flocks, one chicken breeding flock, one mail order hatchery, and five backyard flocks.
The commercial operations are now cleared to start introducing new birds into the facilities, but the executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association, Randy Olson, says it’s not going to happen overnight.
“While I hear stories of progress and farms beginning the repopulation effort, I am also hearing stories that the timeline will be at through least all of 2016 — and even into the start of 2017 — before these barns are fully repopulated,” Olson says.
He says it all depends on when the new birds are available. “Really primarily due to the available pullet supply and hatching chick supply,” Olson says. The turkey industry has recovered a little faster as the clean up process was a little different. The first turkey operation started putting in new birds in July, and Iowa Turkey Federation executive director, Gretta Irwin, says the progress is also dictated by the supply of new birds.
“We did see some of those farms in Minnesota that had breeder birds on it also be impacted by influenza, and so there has been a slight decline in some of those birds being available,” Irwin explains. “And so the industry has been kind of absorbing that into their production across the Midwest.” The majority of turkeys grown in Iowa are raised and then turned into turkey products like lunch meat, and the birds are raised in cycles to be sent to the processing plants.
“All farmers are getting their birds, it’s just maybe taking a little bit longer, or they maybe need to fit that into their production cycle of when the plant needs them ore when it works on their farm,” Irwin says. Irwin believes all of the turkey operations will be up and running by mid-December.
As the facilities continue working to restock, state and national officials are continuing to watch for any additional outbreaks. U.S.D.A. Veterinarian, Kevin Petersburg, says they learned from the outbreak and have taken steps to prevent another outbreak. “We will ensure that farms are free of high path A-I (Avian influenza) virus before they restock with healthy birds, and we will continue to conduct surveillance in both commercial flocks and wild birds to quickly detect any new outbreaks that might occur,” Petersburg says. “If a new infected flock is found, we have plans in place to quickly stop the virus from spreading, and eliminate the negative impact to the industry.”
Doctor Petersburg was asked about the details of the plans to stop a new outbreak. “We are hiring several hundred new veterinarians and animal health technicians who can help with the response on a national level — and on a state level, we’ve worked with our state counterparts and our industry counterparts to make sure that we have in place methods to be able to very quickly check and then to very quickly depopulate any infected flocks,” according toe Petersburg.
The federal government figured out the market value of the birds lost and Petersburg says they paid nearly $200 million to producers across the country for the lost animals.”We’ve also paid out nearly 500 million dollars in payments to producers and to contractor to help with cleaning the barns and cleaning and disinfecting the facilities and disposing of the carcasses,” Petersburg says.
He says the other states across the country are all about where Iowa is when it comes to clearing out the dead birds and restarting their production.