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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Bird Flu vs Pastured Poultry

A picture of our pastured hens about 4 years ago hanging out in the doorway of their coop

An article from AP (This reported contacted me to interview me for this story but since I do not have any birds currently I did not respond)

Free-range Farmers Dispute Whether Flocks At Risk For Bird Flu

by Carrie Spencer Ghose - Associated Press

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio - State officials and poultry
researchers say there's little risk of bird flu coming to
Ohio, but if it does, the flocks most at risk are the ones
being raised in outdoor pastures to meet growing
consumer demand.

Farmers who specialize in free-range poultry downplay
the concerns, saying their birds are protected and their
farming methods inherently healthier.

A new strain of avian influenza that infected geese
appeared in July in Asia, and the worry is that the disease
could spread to wild birds that migrate to North America,
said Theresa Morishita, an Ohio State University
veterinarian. The disease also could be imported through
smuggling of parrots, songbirds or fighting chickens.

About 90 percent of Ohio poultry are raised in cages in
enclosed barns, according to OSU. Strict measures to
prevent germ transmission should protect them, state
Agriculture Director Fred Dailey said.

About 5 percent of Ohio's wild ducks, geese and other
waterfowl carry bird flu, but it's a weak type that doesn't
make the birds sick and does not transmit to humans. At
worst, if it infects domestic poultry, they lay fewer eggs -
but that means money to farmers.

If wild birds do bring the more virulent form of the
disease to this country, they could mix with the small
number of outdoor flocks, said Y.M. Saif, head of the
food animal health program at the OSU agriculture
research center in Wooster.

"It could be then a danger to commercial birds," Saif said.

The virus rarely transmits to humans, so the risk of that
here is extremely low. Free-range farmers said wild birds
generally don't mingle with their flocks. They said they
watch their birds constantly for health concerns, such as
not eating or drinking.

"I want to follow good science, not just emotionalism
about what's better," said Carl Bowman, co-owner of
Bowman & Landes. The 140-acre farm in western Ohio
has one of the state's largest open-pasture turkey
operations in the state, with 60,000 turkeys. The company
raises another 13,000 at a farm in north central Ohio.

Bowman & Landes raises some turkeys for a different
purpose in barns. "By far our healthiest birds have been
the ones on range," he said.

The only wild geese he's seen mingling with his birds are
so-called resident Canada geese, which don't migrate.

Still, Bowman said he might be more concerned about
bird flu next year if the disease spreads beyond Asia. All
the chicks the company hatches are tested.

Eventually, the Ohio Poultry Association would like all
commercial producers to test their birds, said Jim
Chakeres, executive vice president. The U.S. Agriculture
Department has biosecurity recommendations for smaller

Safety starts off the farm for a larger scale indoor
operation, said Terry Wehrkamp, production manager of
Cooper Farms in Oakwood in northwest Ohio. The
company has divisions that raise feed, raise poultry and
even cook the birds for deli and grocery products.

Employees are screened for exposure to other birds, even
pet birds, and pigs. If they break biosecurity rules, such as
not showering and changing into work clothes kept only
in the barns, they're fired.

Indoor poultry growers are prepared if an outbreak were
to occur, Wehrkamp said.

"I would be very nervous if my livelihood depended on
free-range products right now," he said.

Chickens at Brunty Farms outside Akron are protected
from wild birds in 12-by-12-foot pens covered with a net
about 3 feet high, owner Ron Brunty said. The pens,
which house about 1,000 free-range chickens on two
sites, are moved through the pasture throughout the day to
give the chickens fresh grass to feed on.

"I'm not concerned about our birds catching it," Brunty
said. "I'm concerned about people flipping out about it to
the point where they don't buy."

AP International

I do not currently raise poultry but I was planning to get 50 or so pullets this coming spring and perhaps a few adult hens as well. but now I don't know. I am not so much afraid of the actual strain of avian flu taking out a flock of birds but rather what the reaction of the ODA or USDA to a positive bird in a pastured flock will be. I figure the government will over react by a factor of 10x and will try to kill off every pastured fowl in the USA or at the very least will come up with some horribly complex system of monitoring the birds that will take several hours every day for a small flock and most of the day for large flocks. This will ensure the small farmer either has to give up on pastured poultry or give up on other aspects of farming.

I really hope this is all bad paranoia on my part and this does not happen and we small farmers can go about our business unimpeded by bad logic.

As one person wrote on SANET saturday:

"The problem of Avian Flu is an opportunity for us to stop and ask some very basic questions. Firstly, why does the pathogenic virus manifest in the first place? Little importance is given to the conditions that result in the creation of the virus. A lot of attention is given to exposure avoidance and eradication once the virus manifests. As many have stated throughout history, it is not the virus that we should focus on, but rather, the condition of the birds or people that manifest the virus. What is it about these birds or humans that created a fertile environment for the virus? This question must be explored not just from an exposure avoidance perspective but from a health building perspective."
Alan Ismond, P.Eng.
Aqua-Terra Consultants

I can only hope some of these questions will be asked before any flu eradication program goes any further. But I doubt it because if such questions are asked than the way corporations raise animals for consumption will be called into question. And since these are the folks who hold the purse strings I think the conventional wisdom will be:

Pastured Poultry bad; Caged/Confined poultry good

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