Thunder Bay, ONT. Domestic egg producers and chicken farmers are on high alert for the threat of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) in farmed birds. The contagious viral infection, known as ‘bird flu’, can infect several types of food-producing birds including both domestic and wild birds.
The Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is working with industry producers to prevent the spread of influenza while containing outbreaks across the country. There are cases in southern Ontario, Minnesota, and Manitoba. Anyone who has farm animals should practice good biosecurity habits.
Farms in Thunder Bay need high standards of year-round biosecurity to prevent all risks, including bird flu. Stricter guidelines include more sterilization procedures and restricted areas for deliveries.
Tyler Breukelman, co-owner of Vanderwees Farms and Thunder Bay Feeds, says the Vanderwees farm operates as a distributor and no longer raises poultry for egg production. They are also the local egg variety of local producers.
“We buy all our eggs from Steinbach, mann, and we have our own trucking system to get them here,” he said. “We have another company called Thunder Bay Feeds where we make animal seeds and sell day-old chicks as well as live, full-grown chickens.”
Breukelman operates with two hatcheries, one of which is in Steinbach, Man. , and the other in southern Ontario, neither of which is within the affected areas, making it safe to move animals to Thunder Bay. If the hatchery is in a quarantine area, distribution will be stopped from there with nothing in or out of the facilities.
“Last year, we were able to get off[to Manitoba]with our trailer, and I could go into their barn, talk to the farmer who helped me load the truck, and I would handle the chicken myself,” he said.
“This year, before getting down there, I needed to disinfect my truck inside and out and trailer in our facility here. Crates where chickens go in have to be disinfected here. Once I get to Manitoba I have to go through the whole process again to disinfect the cages. Once I pull To the farmer’s yard, they have to sanitize the outside of my truck, and when backed up to the facility, I’m not actually allowed into the barn at all or handling the birds until they’re loaded into my trailer.”
There’s a growing sense that something is going on, Brockelman says, but most of the time, all the normal biosecurity measures are in place and it’s not something they’re not used to.
Avian influenza is spread by fecal-oral route. Birds become infected through direct contact with infected bird feces or secretions, infected food, and contaminated surfaces and water supplies. Wild birds can transmit the virus through their feathers, feet, or dander.
“There is always some level of anxiety,” says Brockelmann. “We could have a flock of geese flying over Thunder Bay and a few of them got injured and are now in the soil where they did their work. Another bird picks them up and flies to a small farm and does the same in their field where their chickens go. So there is always that level of risk and concern” .
Breukelman credits the Ontario Chicken Breeder (CFO), who oversees all poultry operations, while providing farmers valuable information on prevention and biosecurity measures.
John Holloway and his wife Ali run Corbett Creek Farm and partner with Morning Moon Farm to bring people’s signature meat and vegetable program. Their clients get a box of vegetables every two weeks and a box of meat every month from what’s available on their farm seasonally, right up to the summer. Holloway arms himself with solid education on bird flu and participates in several webinars to learn more.
“This is our first year in the artisanal chicken industry and yes, we are definitely keeping an eye on things and doing whatever is recommended,” he said, adding that they produce beef and pork on their farm as well. “There are new measures in terms of limiting exposure with other companies and the biosecurity things that we’re doing anyway, and we’ll definitely make sure that we’re doing everything we can to limit any exposure.”
At family-run Tarrymore Farm, farmer Jenny Gruenheide says bird flu is “not a problem (for them) at this point.
“It mainly comes with migratory birds and we don’t have a lot of those in our area – and our chickens are contained. They’re not outside. Unless they mix with wild birds, or they can pick up bird droppings or something, there’s no good chance,” Gruenheide said. to get infected.
The important thing, she added, is that, as with any flock of chickens, good biosecurity protocols are practiced.
“And that’s something we’ve done for as long as we’ve had birds,” she said.
The protocols on her farm are similar to other area farms and include no access to the barns if you are not a worker on that farm. Various boots or shoes may be a biological hazard if they enter the barn.
“You have to follow good biosecurity protocols, make sure your shoes are clean, and make sure the equipment you use, like shovels and anything in the barn, hasn’t been outside with the potential for infection in any way,” she said. Way, we don’t go into someone else’s fold.”
Groenheide is confident a local representative of the Ontario Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs keeps them informed of any risks. She says, “You have to pay attention to those people who help you in your field. We can count on these people to be the source of our early warnings.”