Manitoba’s egg and poultry producers are on high alert as avian influenza spreads to neighbouring jurisdictions.
More than 75,000 birds have already been euthanized at two farms in Ontario and farms in the American Midwest have seen more than seven million birds destroyed this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Now cases have been found in areas bordering Manitoba.
“What we’ve been doing with our producers is just keeping them up to date with the developments, particularly those in Minnesota,” said Cory Rybuck, general manager of Manitoba Egg Farmers.
“There were a couple of confirmed cases in Roseau County, which is right along the Manitoba border,” he said.
As reported by the Grand Forks Herald, 26,000 turkeys have been destroyed in that county alone — just south of the international boundary — since April 16. In total, nearly 50 farms have been infected with avian flu across the state, where Governor Mark Dayton has declared a state of emergency.
But the only real boundary producers need to focus on is the one at the end of their driveway, experts say.
“The best way to protect your flock is by implementing good biosecurity practices at the farm gate and at the barn door,” stressed Dr. Megan Bergman, chief veterinarian for the province.
“The most important thing is knowing what’s coming on and off your premise, and that includes everything from people, equipment, machinery, vehicles and other birds, or anything that has come into contact with other birds. Producers need to have a heightened awareness,” she said.
Many confirmed cases of H5N2 and H5N8 virus are believed to be linked to the spread of infected fecal matter, possibly tracked from one barn to the next on soiled footwear.
There have also been reports in the U.S. of airborne transmission of the disease, but only over very short distances.
Bergman noted that avian flu viruses are not particularly hardy and would likely have a maximum range of only a kilometre, maybe a kilometre and a half, if airborne.
Rybuck added that because poultry farms in Manitoba aren’t located close together, who and what is entering the farm is more of a concern.
“Unless you’ve got a real concentration of facilities like you do in the States, or maybe in the Fraser Valley, that type of transmission is less of a concern,” he said. “But it’s still something to be aware of.”
Egg producers and others are also being reminded that if a case of avian influenza is confirmed, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will require a detailed history of anyone or anything that visited a farm in the 21 days leading up to the outbreak.
“We’ve got that record-keeping in place now, but we’re just reminding producers to make sure they are keeping those records,” said Rybuck.
Manitoba Chicken Producers is also being kept abreast of the situation with regular updates and notes on biosecurity.
“We’ve been communicating with our producers, probably for a month or so now, encouraging enhanced biosecurity,” said spokeswoman Karen Armstrong. “We have several levels of biosecurity, one being our regular biosecurity that happens day to day on a farm. We’re now at enhanced biosecurity to basically reduce the chances of something happening locally.”
Extra biosecurity measures have also been adopted by poultry processors and transport companies, she said.
“It’s very much a collective effort at all times,” said Bergman. “In Manitoba we have what is called the avian influenza response plan that was developed jointly with CFIA and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, as well as with other provincial and government partners, as well as industry.”
But with the disease present in wild bird populations, the risk is always there.
“It typically does circulate in the wild bird population,” said the chief vet. “Right now it seems to be at a bit of a higher level. But it’s not unusual and it’s not unexpected.”
Producers can lower the risk of infection from wild birds by ensuring that food, water and bedding do not come into contact with local fowl before entering the barn. Flocks should also be monitored for any change that could indicate the presence of the virus.
“Producers are asked to be really vigilant in terms of any changes in their flock,” said Bergman. “It could be something as simple as a drop in feed consumption, or a drop in egg production, but it could also be very significant signs, including sudden death.”
Once clinical signs are present, flocks should be tested for the virus. If a positive result occurs, CFIA would take the lead in quarantining the area and destroying the birds, she added.
Hopefully, it never gets to that point.
“We don’t want to overwhelm people,” said Rybuck. “But we do want to keep it top of mind.”