Did you know Georgia is the chicken capital of the world?
Broilers and eggs are our top two agricultural commodities and make up 40 percent of all our agriculture, which equals $5.5 billion of poultry per year.
Threats to the poultry industry can get some people pretty nervous. So when the highly pathogenic avian influenza was discovered in a poultry facility in south central Tennessee just north of Huntsville, Ala., we jumped. On March 3, that Tennessee facility had 73,500 birds. Today, that facility has 0 birds.
Avian influenza outbreaks occur sporadically throughout the world. This disease has been very disruptive to the poultry industry; millions of chickens, geese, and turkeys have been destroyed to prevent further spread of the disease. In the U.S., outbreaks in Texas, Indiana and Iowa over the past 15 years have resulted in large culling of poultry flocks. Luckily in Georgia, we have not had an outbreak to date.
How did this virus end up in southern Tennessee?
The pathogen comes from wild bird lineage, which is scary because those wild birds are migratory. Waterfowl in particular are known to carry the disease without showing signs of being sick. Tennessee is on the Mississippi flyway and according to Ducks Unlimited, this flyway is “more than 2,300 miles long with a watershed of more than 1.5 million square miles and is the most heavily used migration corridor for waterfowl and other birds in North America.”
More than 325 bird species make their way up and down this flyway. The large quantities of potential carriers and an enormous range to cover make it almost impossible to pinpoint this disease. Georgia is on another migration pattern called the Atlantic flyway, which may help in avoiding this particular outbreak.
There are many strains of the avian flu and most have caused little human harm in North America. The avian flu is not passed by eating poultry but by close contact with infected birds. Although scientists worry there may be a chance that if someone gets the old fashioned flu and the avian flu at the same time, the virus could mutate and cause serious harm.
With the rise of urban backyard poultry flocks, what can we do locally to help prevent the potential spreading of the disease? The Department of Agriculture says growers should prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths.
Currently, all poultry exhibitions, shows, sales, swaps, and meets in Georgia are suspended until further notice. You may still be able to find some certified healthy chicks for Easter or for home flocks but swapping them among friends is against the rules.
If you do have a sick bird, you should let the Department of Agriculture know.
Reach Campbell Vaughn, the agriculture and natural resources cooperative extension agent for Richmond County, by e-mailing email@example.com.