Michigan poultry producers on high alert as avian influenza spreads through US

A lethal form of avian influenza recently hit an Indiana turkey farm and Kentucky broiler flock, causing other countries to ban imports from the Hoosier state and stirring movement from Michigan poultry producers.

One such operation is Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, the state’s largest egg producer.

Herbruck’s Mohamed Mousa said the company’s entered a code orange in terms of biosecurity. That means no visitors, sales representatives, tours, and employees and trucks entering poultry facilities must follow strict guidelines.

“All the trucks have to be cleaned — undercarriage, tires, and we mark where the truck comes from and where it is going,” said Mousa, vice president of production at the Ionia-based operation. “If there are any cases in Michigan, we go to code red, which means a lot of restrictions and no movement at all between any farm or equipment; it’s complete isolation, even for management.”

Already in Europe, Africa, Asia and Canada, the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is lethal to all poultry that contract it, according to health officials.

A similar flu outbreak in 2015 killed nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys, and infected 12 wild Canada geese and three goslings in Michigan — the state’s only such instance of HPAI detection.

To prevent a similar scenario, trade organizations like the Michigan Allied Poultry Industries (MAPI) have a plan in place if an outbreak occurs. The non-profit said there are no current HPAI cases in Michigan.

“Michigan farmers are staying vigilant, and have elevated their biosecurity to the highest levels. Disease prevention is our top priority,” said Allison Brink, executive director of MAPI, which represents Michigan’s egg, chicken and turkey farmers.

“We are working to support our family farmers, who provide the highest level of care for their animals and rely on healthy animals for their livelihood. In collaboration with Michigan’s poultry farmers, state, and federal animal health agencies, MAPI is working closely with the farming community to help ensure that Michigan farms have the resources for prevention.”

The United States is the world’s largest producer and second-largest exporter of poultry meat. The Indiana incident Feb. 11 resulted in the killing of 30,000 turkeys to contain the virus spread.

According to Mousa, Herbruck’s is working with MDARD, USDA, and other organizations to gather information. He said employees are already trained to handle any situation.

“We want to make sure our birds are protected,” said Mousa, noting Herbruck’s uses two veterinarians. “When it is a hybrid (avian influenza) and is detected in the wild birds, then every operation in the United States goes to high alert, and we follow not only aggression but other operations and flyways.”

Migratory flyways are what concern Ernie Birchmeier, senior industry relations specialist for Michigan Farm Bureau.

“Avian influenza doesn’t care if you are a small poultry farm or a big one; it’s an equal-opportunity virus,” said Birchmeier, adding that as birds migrate back north, they can be a vector for disease and pose a serious risk.

“Indiana is in the migratory pathway, and this is especially concerning as birds fly north,” he said. “Our poultry producers are on high alert and are taking extra precautionary measures to their already-strict biosecurity measures. It is imperative the poultry industry, including large farm and back-yard operators, keep a close eye on the health of their flock.”

Michigan ranks sixth nationally in egg production at almost 4 billion. The state also produces 6 million turkeys. Some of the signs of poultry disease infection include sudden death without clinical signs, lack of energy or appetite, and decreased egg production.

Learn more about avian diseases here.