A dramatic drop in temperatures across Arkansas may intensify the fall migration of wildfowl and poultry flock owners will need to redouble their biosecurity efforts to stave off potential infections of a deadly type of bird flu, said Dustan Clark, extension poultry veterinarian for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
“Geese, ducks and other wildfowl are already making their way south along the Mississippi Flyway,” Clark said. “And we know that wildfowl play a role in moving avian influenza around the Western Hemisphere.”
At issue is highly pathogenic avian influenza, H5N1, which has beleaguered poultry owners since 2021, affecting millions of birds on five continents and last year, helped drive up egg prices. This fall, 10 states have had confirmed infections, with Oregon being the most recent, Clark said.
“We have a cold front coming in a few days and that will push migrating birds south,” he said. “We need to be prepared.”
Arkansas is located squarely in the Mississippi Flyway and the lakes and agricultural fields of the Delta, a stopping point for millions of ducks, geese and other birds.
“Three of the states, Minnesota, South Dakota and Utah, have confirmed cases in turkey flocks,” Clark said. “The remaining seven states reported highly pathogenic avian influenza infections only in backyard, hobby and small flocks.
“Because small flocks tend to be outdoors, there’s a higher risk of exposure to infected wild birds,” he said. “It’s important that our small flock, backyard flock and hobby flock owners be informed about disease recognition and prevention.”
Temperatures cratered across the state during the weekend going from high temperatures in the upper 80s at the start of the week to temperatures in the upper 30s, according to the National Weather Service. Highs are projected to hover in the low 50s throughout the week with lows in the 30s. Temperatures are expected to climb by the weekend, the NWS reported.
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.
Clark is offering four biosecurity webinars for small flock owners at 6 p.m. each evenings of Nov. 2, 7, 9 and 16. There is no charge to attend. Registration is available online.
“While biosecurity may sound complex, there are some simple, inexpensive ways for small flock owners to protect their birds,” he said.