KANSAS CITY, MO. — Not since 2015 has an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) impacted the commercial poultry industry to such an extent that turkey prices have soared to record highs Y egg prices have broken records three times with the potential to achieve a fourth record before the end of the year.
But there are some stark differences between this year’s HPAI outbreak and the one that occurred seven years ago. In the previous outbreak, HPAI was detected in 211 commercial operations (160 commercial turkey flocks and 50 egg-laying facilities plus one other commercial category) and 21 backyard flocks resulting in the depopulation of more than 50 million birds.
So far this year, 252 commercial flocks and a staggering 333 backyard flocks have been infected with an extremely virulent strain of HPAI. But even though 152% more total flocks have been affected so far in 2022, this year’s outbreak has yet to reach the 50 million depopulation figure of 2015. One explanation is that 40% fewer facilities Commercial table egg-layers, whose bird populations often number in the millions, have been affected by the virus this year compared to 2015.
What are these commercial table egg operations doing to fend off the virus, and why have so many backyard growers borne the brunt of this year’s outbreak? Industry experts and poultry scientists say several factors are involved, but most point to the widespread prevalence and highly infectious nature of this particular viral strain that, for the first time in history, withstood the high temperatures of summer when most viruses deteriorate.
“There have been a lot of wild birds that have died from HPAI in 2022, and I don’t recall that being the case in 2015,” said Dr. Barry Whitworth, area animal quality and food health extension specialist in Oklahoma State University.
HPAI, which is endemic in the wild bird population, is generally transmitted to domesticated and commercial flocks through contact with nasal secretions and feces of infected birds. This partly explains why backyard flocks are more vulnerable.
“We see this virus continuing to circulate in interactions between domesticated birds and wild species because many backyard flocks have more points of exposure than commercial flocks,” said Amy Hagerman, assistant professor of agricultural economics and food policy extension specialist at the University Oklahoma State.
Hagerman and other experts also attributed the biggest impact on backyards to the surge in backyard poultry operations that occurred during the pandemic shutdowns.
“Producing for local food systems has been a big movement in the US, and we saw it particularly during COVID-19, where people were doing everything from sourdough to compost to poultry,” Hagerman said. .
Animal health scientists agree that the lessons learned from the 2015 outbreak have helped protect many commercial table egg-laying facilities. The US Department of Agriculture requires all commercial poultry and egg facilities to have a biosecurity plan that controls traffic and outlines specific sanitation procedures if producers expect to receive severance pay. But implementing biosecurity measures can be challenging for backyard growers.
“Biosecurity measures are no different for backyard growers, but they tend to be difficult because the birds are generally free-range and highly exposed to their environment, as most of them are not in a covered facility all the time” said Dr. Whitworth.
Recently, the UK issued a mandatory housing requirement for all birds in the country, regardless of flock size, to mitigate the spread of HPAI.
Commercial turkey operations have continually struggled with managing the spread of HPAI. In the previous outbreak, 160 herds were infected. This year, nearly 200 turkey flocks have been affected despite updated and improved biosecurity measures.
“As turkeys are genetically, they are a little more susceptible to the virus than chickens,” said Yuko Sato, a veterinarian and specialist in poultry diagnostics and extension at Iowa State University. “Also, turkeys have more movement between their stages of life, which increases their exposure to viral particles in the environment, while commercial layers, which have a shorter life, tend to remain in a protected facility”.
Dr. Sato said protecting flocks from HPAI comes down to the details, from having dedicated feed trucks to making sure labor and equipment are separated between farms and housing units. But despite strict protocols, the virus continues to persevere. Recently, a facility housing more than a million birds in Wright County, Iowa, became the first commercial table-laying operation to report a HPAI infection in nearly four weeks. Still, experts believe the intensity of this year’s outbreak will spur a greater understanding of HPAI that will lead to more robust defensive measures.
“Every industry and government organization has to prioritize their time and investment in research, and as more countries address HPAI, I think you will see more research and development to help growers effectively address this issue,” Hagerman said. . .
Considerable media attention has been given to turkey availability and prices for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Industry experts have indicated that whole frozen turkey supplies should be adequate, but supplies of fresh whole turkeys may be limited.
The USDA in its latest cold storage report said frozen whole turkey stocks on September 30 totaled 238,523,000 pounds, down 8% from a year earlier, including whole turkeys at 133,112,000 pounds, down 18%. , and whole turkeys at 105,411,000 lbs. up to 9%. Whole turkey supplies were at a minimum in 2006 and whole turkey supplies were at a minimum in 2021. On September 30, inventories of turkey breasts, legs and mechanically deboned meat reached an all-time low this year.