Pennsylvania can count itself lucky in the matter of spreading high path avian influenza; it has not yet reached the commonwealth. Bird flu is never inevitable. It’s the luck of the draw.
Bird flu could wind up in any state from Maine to New York to Virginia. “A flock of chickens at a commercial poultry breeding operation located in Chattooga County has tested positive for H7, presumptive low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI),” according to a Georgia Department of Agriculture press release on March 27.
In response to the Tennessee discovery of avian influenza, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services urged strict biosecurity for all commercial birds and backyard flocks in the Commonwealth. “Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza has not yet been found in any birds in New York State and simple precautions can help keep it that way,” says the New York State Ag Department.
The Center for Disease Control, often concerned with pandemics, calmed some fears at the beginning of March when they stated, “new pandemics can arise at any time. CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have worked over the past decade to increase the capacity for global pandemic response. Influenza pandemic preparedness is only attained through the continued development and maintenance of a robust global influenza surveillance and detection network. Tools have been developed and refined to guide planning and response….”
It should be kept in mind Lancaster County Pennsylvania has more egg-laying hens than any other county in the U.S. Pennsylvania’s total poultry count according to the 2012 census was 200,346,475. Lancaster County’s poultry count was nearly 65,000,000, or 32 percent of the state total.
Emergency and Safety Coordinator at Pennsylvania’s Agriculture Department, Derek Ruhl, is at the vanguard of avian influenza alerts. One point he stressed at a recent seminar and update is the need for 3-D work plans in the poultry industry — Depopulation, Disposal, and Disinfection.
“We need to depopulate as soon as possible,” says PA State Veterinarian Dave Wolfgang, “and then you spend time getting ready to dispose of these birds. In fact, most of our plans include several days of survival downgrading.” In other words, will they wind up in a landfill? Will they be buried or composted? What is the strategy for that specific farm? Time of year is also a factor.
Present at the seminar was Gary Humphreys, manager of the Mid-Atlantic Region of Miller Environmental Group. Humphreys was there with equipment to show stakeholders. “Should [the State Department of Agriculture] have ‘an event’ we would then set up de-con (decontamination) areas for vehicles coming into and going out of an infected zone to ensure that the avian flu virus is not spread off the site.”
Penn State Extension poultry educator Greg Martin literally walked attendees through a new mass depopulation process involving foam. The demonstration, geared to euthanize thousands of birds in a matter of minutes, was an outdoor exercise at Penn State’s Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Lancaster County. “The first thing I want to impress upon us all,” Martin says, “is that whatever we do, we need to do it safely. So, if we’re working on depopulation on a farm, nobody works alone.”
Martin stressed there is always somebody in charge. The farm’s site manager is most often the key person in these situations. For this demonstration, a drop tank held about 3,000 gallons of water. Used in concert with the water tank was the Kifco Avi-Foam Guard unit. “The foamer uses high-rise foam, firefighting foam, Class A foam. Basically, it pushes air away from the birds,” says Martin. Following his pronouncement, Martin then hopped into his Kubota jitney to tow the hose and foam platform to the foam spreading site. A question arose about two-story houses and use of the foamer. How could the foamer be used, for instance, with a two-story broiler house?
“How much do you think this weighs?” Martin asked regarding the foaming platform. “I’m a scientist, and I’m going to say a lot, approximately eight pounds per gallon. What we would do is to open up the floor of your broiler house, push the birds down to the first floor, and foam the first floor. That way, you’ll still have a house when we’re finished.”
Once the foaming process began, the engine’s sound maintained a coarse continuo until foaming was finished. Operator Daryl Peachey had soapy residue on his arms and some of his clothing, thanks to slightly heavier than usual winds.
No birds were involved in this demonstration, and so the question was posed, “How long does it take for a chicken to die with this method of depopulation?” About three minutes. A duck takes longer because it is a diving bird and its inhalation reflex is stronger.