Influenza could threaten state’s poultry industry

by George Jared ([email protected]) 731 views 

Disease, especially avian influenza, could impact Arkansas poultry producers in 2022.

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture is urging poultry owners to increase biosecurity measures on their operations in response to several reports of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in other states to include some in the Mississippi Flyway.

HPAI is caused by an influenza type A virus which can infect poultry and wild birds. HPAI virus strains are extremely infectious, often fatal to chickens, and can spread rapidly from flock to flock. Symptoms can include sudden increase in bird deaths with no clinical signs, lack of energy and appetite, decrease in egg production, soft- or thin-shelled or misshapen eggs, and more.

Although there have been no reports of HPAI in Arkansas this year, there have been reported cases in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana, a commercial broiler chicken flock in Kentucky, and a backyard flock of mixed species birds in Virginia.

Arkansas State Veterinarian John Nilz said an increase in biosecurity should be a priority for Arkansas poultry owners.

“By practicing good biosecurity, you can reduce the risk of people, animals, equipment, or vehicles carrying infectious diseases onto your property,” said Nilz. “This will also help protect other flocks in the state by preventing the spread of disease.”

Biosecurity refers to everything people do to keep diseases – and the viruses, bacteria, funguses, parasites, and other microorganisms that cause diseases – away from birds, property, and people. Biosecurity measures can include keeping visitors to a minimum, changing clothes before entering poultry areas, cleaning tools or equipment before moving them to a new poultry facility, and more.

Arkansas is home to numerous poultry companies and businesses that support poultry companies and poultry farmers. Most Arkansas chicken and poultry farmers grow birds on contract for poultry companies such as Tyson Foods or Peco Foods, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau. Butterball is a turkey processing operator with plants and farmers in the state.

The Natural State ranks second in broiler production with 7.42 billion pounds produced with a value of $3.6 billion, according to the USDA. The broiler industry generated $28.3 billion in the U.S. during 2019.

There was a major outbreak of influenza in the U.S. poultry sector in late 2014 through the first six months of 2015, according to the USDA. An estimated 50 million chickens and turkeys died from avian influenza. It about 12% of the table egg laying population and 8% of the turkey meat population.

The federal government and farmers spent billions of dollars tackling the problem. Broiler exports dropped by 26% to $1.1 billion in 2015, the USDA reported. Egg exports income dropped 14% ($41 million), while turkey export income fell 23% ($177 million).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides resources on biosecurity for poultry operations through their Defend the Flock campaign, which can be found at this link. Poultry owners should also monitor their flocks and report any possible symptoms to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture at 501-823-1746.