Bird flu forces the destruction of more than 22,000 birds in Montana


Commercial poultry producers and wildlife managers in Montana are increasingly concerned following several confirmed reports of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in domestic poultry flocks and in wild birds across the country. State..

At the end of the first week of April, two flocks of domestic birds in Montana tested positive for the highly contagious disease, one a backyard flock of about 15 birds in Judith Basin County, the other on a small layer and meat bird operation in Cascade County with nearly 22,000 birds.

“Affected herds have been placed in quarantine and need to be depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease,” a press release from the Montana Department of Livestock reads. “Because of this detection and the scale of the nationwide outbreak, the Department is issuing an official order banning all public shows, exhibitions, trades and sales of poultry for the next 60 days to reduce the risk of exposure. exposures pose an increased risk of HPAI because animals from multiple sources are concentrated in one area during the event.”

“Flock owners are eligible to receive compensation on their birds from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),” the press release continues. “The Montana Department of Livestock is conducting an epidemiological investigation and will identify other poultry producers in the area to conduct disease surveillance and provide educational resources.”

On April 12, a third backyard flock of 21 birds tested positive for the H5 strain of HPAI in Fallon County. This was followed last Monday by reports that the highly pathogenic bird flu virus had been detected in a snow goose at Canyon Ferry and a Canada goose near Belgrade. Several other birds across Montana are currently being tested for the virus.

Montana is now the 25th state to report HPAI cases in domestic poultry this year. A similar outbreak of HPAI swept through the Midwest and Pacific Northwest in the spring of 2015. The outbreak resulted in the depopulation of more than 50.5 million chickens, turkeys, and other commercial poultry to limit the spread of the disease .

Distribution of confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in North America as of April 17, 2022.

“High-pathway avian influenza strains are extremely contagious, often fatal to chickens, and can spread rapidly from flock to flock,” says a report from the American Farm Bureau Federation. “To prevent suffering in affected herds and help curb the spread of the virus to other herds, when HPAI is detected, the entire herd is depopulated. This is a heartbreaking event for the producer, regardless of the size of his herd. »

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that about 12 percent of the U.S. table egg-laying chicken population and 8 percent of turkeys raised in the U.S. for meat were lost to the 2015 outbreak. A Congressional Research Service report estimated the value of turkey and laying hen losses from the 2014-2015 HPAI outbreak at nearly $1.6 billion.

“More than 80% of bird losses, totaling 39 million, occurred between April 17 and May 19, 2015,” reports the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Layers made up a large majority of the birds lost… and were compounded by significant losses of layer pullets, birds that become replacement layers. In addition, nearly 600,000 breeding turkeys were lost.

Montana’s exposure during the 2015 HPAI outbreak was limited to a single domestic flock of chickens in Judith Basin County. The disease was also detected in a captive falcon at Columbia Falls. The Judith Basin County flock consisted of less than 100 birds, which were euthanized and their bodies burned or buried to prevent the spread of HPAI.

However, there is growing concern in the United States that the current HPAI outbreak has the potential to match the devastating losses of 2015.

The first detections of HPAI were announced in December 2021 in flocks of domestic birds in Newfoundland and Labrador in eastern Canada. Confirmation of the disease in wild birds in South Carolina on January 13 of this year. Since then, the disease has spread to all four bird flyways, including the Central and Pacific Flyways that include parts of Montana.

Map of the four major flyways of North America.  HPAI has been detected in all four, but is mostly concentrated in the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways.

So far in 2022, more than 18.7 million chickens and 3.2 million turkeys have been depopulated as a result of HPAI, reports the American Farm Bureau Federation. A handful of states have borne the brunt of the current outbreak, including Iowa which, as of April 12, was forced to depopulate more than 12.75 million layers, or a quarter of all egg-laying hens in the world. ‘State. Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota and South Dakota were also particularly hard hit.

Wildlife biologists are also concerned. Among the latest victims of the HPAI epidemic are bald eagles. According to the US Department of Agriculture, at least 36 bald eagles in 14 states have died since February after contracting HPAI. Eagles in two other states are believed to have fallen ill from the disease. There have been no confirmed cases of HPAI in Montana eagles.

“Migratory waterfowl are the primary source of bird flu,” says the Montana Department of Livestock. “Wild birds can be infected and appear healthy, but shed the virus in feces, saliva and respiratory secretions. Domestic poultry are infected by direct contact with infected wild birds or by contact with contaminated objects, materials or the environment. A contaminated environment can include animal straw and bedding, equipment, clothing and footwear.

“Sick birds can show many signs such as swollen eyes, discolored comb and legs, a significant drop in egg production or water and feed consumption, or sudden death. The Montana Department of Livestock encourages all poultry producers to immediately report the sudden onset of disease or high mortality in domestic poultry to their veterinarian or the department at (444-2976).

The United States is experiencing a resurgence of the same HPAI bird flu virus that killed more than 50 million chickens and turkeys in 2015.

In addition to canceling shows and exhibitions, poultry producers are also encouraged to implement the following biosecurity:

  • Prevent contact between wild or migratory birds and domestic poultry, including the access of wild birds to food and water sources.
  • If possible, house birds indoors to limit exposure to wild or migratory birds.
  • Restrict visitor access to areas where birds are housed.
  • Use dedicated protective clothing and footwear when caring for domestic poultry.
  • Immediately isolate sick animals and contact your veterinarian or MDOL.

“There is no increased risk from eating poultry or poultry products,” said Montana state veterinarian Dr. Marty Zaluski.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) considers the risk to people of these HPAI infections in wild birds, backyard flocks, and commercial poultry to be low. No human infection with the virus has been detected so far. However, people are advised to follow proper sanitary precautions when handling birds. Wear latex or rubber gloves when cleaning birds, wash your hands with soapy water after cleaning, clean and disinfect equipment and surfaces that have come into contact with the bird, and do well cook before eating the meat. As a reminder, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends cooking poultry at 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has biosecurity materials including videos, checklists, and a toolkit available at: https://www.


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