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Keeping bird flu away in turkeys in NC

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  • Shiloh
    Re: Keeping bird flu away in turkeys in NC


    Safety begins on farm, producers say

    For Billy Hardy, a third-generation Lenoir County farmer, turkeys have been a way of life for the last 23 years, and he is not interested in that changing.

    "We used to grow tobacco, but I got out to focus on turkeys (after the buyout)," he said. "And the turkeys have been really good to me."

    That's why when anybody visits Hardy Cross Creek Farms in LaGrange and walks into one of his six turkey houses -- containing a total of more than 32,000 birds -- they suit up in a pair of clean coveralls and boots before dunking their feet in a tub of disinfectant.

    It's how he and other poultry producers in Wayne and surrounding counties protect themselves and their flocks from the avian flu virus.

    It's not, he explained, a difficult process to go through. And in a lot of ways, it's not that much different than what he and other farmers have always done -- ever since his uncle first got into the poultry business in 1977.

    "Everything is a little tougher now than it was, but even back then you couldn't go into the houses without plastic boots on," he said.

    And even then, they never would have dreamed of leaving one farm and walking onto another.

    "It's always been that you don't go to somebody else's farm, and they don't come to yours. A lot of your diseases are tracked in on your shoes, so you just don't do it. We do everything we can to keep (anything) from spreading," he said. "To me this is normal."

    In fact, he said, because he is so used to it and conscious of the security risks and needs, the only real changes he has had to make over the years were getting rid of his brooder houses, which are harder to maintain in the event of any sort of outbreak, and getting rid of the sun porches on his houses so that the birds can no longer wander outside where they can be exposed to wild fowl -- the primary carriers of the avian flu virus.

    "We did away with those a few years ago because of this bird flu scare," he said. "The house is their protection."

    Any other steps they take to limit disease are simply added assurances.

    "I'm in this to make money," Hardy said. "This is my main source of income. I don't aim to abuse it."

    And helping him make sure that things continue to run smoothly is his serviceman, assigned to him by Goldsboro Milling Co. and Butterball.

    "He makes sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing," he said.

    But more than being there just to look over the farmers' shoulders, the servicemen's goal is to make sure all the birds stay healthy.

    "If they don't look right, if the mortality goes up any, the first thing I do is call my serviceman," Hardy said.

    From there, samples from the birds, or even the birds themselves, are taken to Goldsboro Milling's diagnostic lab on Millers Chapel Road where an initial battery of tests can be run to find out what the problem might be -- before it's sent off to a state lab, either in Raleigh or Rose Hill.

    "If there's something we're not sure of, we send it to the state. But this lab is the front line. A lot of our farmers are about 30 minutes from here," said Goldsboro Milling veterinarian Becky Tilley. "It's a lot more convenient for the farmer or the serviceman to bring the sample here, and that helps everybody."

    And it's a relationship that's helped make Goldsboro Milling and now Butterball among the industry leaders in fighting and protecting against avian flu and other biological concerns.

    "It helps out a lot," Goldsboro Milling veterinarian Eric Gonder said. "For us, it's really quite an advantage."

    He explained that because the operation runs the gamut from breeding to poults (baby turkeys) to toms and hens (male and female adults), it pays to make sure everything is healthy and normal.

    If not, because of the amount of exports shipped out of the Mount Olive processing plant, and because of the number of day-old poults sold to growers in neighboring states, any trade bans or restrictions could quickly harm the company's bottom line.

    "We've talked about this a lot internally," Gonder said. "We're fairly sensitive to the subject."

    Between the state and industry safeguards, as well as the company's, he said Goldsboro Milling's producers are about as well-protected as they can be from any sort of outbreak.

    "We're going about as far as we can with bio-security without making everybody's lives miserable," Gonder said.

    And for that, and all the other support Goldsboro Milling offers its 160 contract turkey producers, Hardy is thankful.

    "I couldn't do this as an individual," he said.

    By Matthew Whittle
    Published in News on March 31, 2008 01:45 PM

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  • Shiloh
    started a topic Keeping bird flu away in turkeys in NC

    Keeping bird flu away in turkeys in NC


    Turkey health watch: Keeping bird flu away

    Today, several years removed from the height of the avian flu scares in 2005 and 2006, state health and agricultural experts are confident that while the threat still exists, it has at least been minimized in North Carolina.

    In North Carolina, poultry is the No. 1 agricultural industry with more than 5,000 family farms totaling nearly $3 billion in receipts -- 37 percent of the state's total farm income.

    In Wayne County, poultry is the No. 2 agricultural industry, with about 140 family farms totaling more than $75 million in gross receipts in 2006 -- 23.5 percent of the county's total farm income.

    So protecting that investment is paramount.

    "(Avian flu) is not something we can tolerate," said Joanne Quinn, veterinary medical officer and poultry health specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services.

    That's why, she explained, departments like the USDA, the U.S. Department of the Interior and others are constantly working together to monitor the health of wild bird populations in the country's four main migration routes -- one of which includes North Carolina.

    It's also why not only a national plan has been developed for dealing with outbreaks, but also state, industry and individual plans as well.

    "We really feel like it would be possible to contain a high- path (highly pathogenic) AI (avian influenza) if it were to enter the U.S.," she said. "It just takes early detection and rapid response."

    And so far, the poultry industry has been fortunate.

    Despite a few less virulent strains of avian flu being found from time to time -- the most prominent case of which was in Virginia in 2002 -- there has not been a single documented case of the H5N1 strain so prevalent in east Asia and other developing areas of the world.

    But it does still exist with cases documented even this year.

    "A lot of areas have cleaned up the problem, but it is still out there. It still circulates," said Donna Carver, veterinarian and associate professor at N.C. State University's Poultry Science Department in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

    Fortunately, she continued, the virus does not seem to be mutating and attacking the general human population.

    Since it was first discovered in 1996, there have only been 373 confirmed cases of bird flu in humans, and only 236 deaths. Almost all, though, were people handling sick and dying birds.

    "If you get it, you're likely to die from it," Carver said. "But we've known about this for 12 years and there really have been very few human cases.

    "In my opinion, this may not be the candidate for the next pandemic."

    North Carolina, however, is not taking any chances, with a unique collaboration between state epidemiologist Jeff Engel, and state veterinarian David Marshall, designed to monitor and contain the threat for both the human and industry populations.

    "We have a good testing program in place and I think we're in good shape, but the threat is there," Marshall said. "We can never let our guard down."

    And so, he explained, with a rapid response plan in place for industrial outbreaks, the state is now turning its attention to back yard flocks -- not to eliminate them, but to educate their owners about the threats posed by wild birds, which are the main carriers of avian flu, and what to do if they suspect a problem, which is to contact their local cooperative extension service.

    The problem, he said, is that even though back yard flocks don't come in contact with industry farms, the virus can still be easily spread through incidental contacts and could pose a risk to those owners.

    "When there's a cluster of virus out there, there's the potential for it to spread," Marshall said.

    Engel agreed with Carver that the prospects for an outbreak in the general human population are small.

    "The general public is at zero risk," he said. "The only people at risk are those in contact with sick and dying birds, and if our plan is done the way it's supposed to, I'm confident we can provide protection for our workers."

    By Matthew Whittle
    Published in News on March 31, 2008 01:45 PM