By Tom Collins
LISTOWEL — One Eastern Ontario egg producer said it would take a farmer six to nine months to recover if his farm was hit by the avian bird flu.
Ontario poultry and egg farmers are on high alert after the deadly bird virus was found on three farms in Western Ontario in April. At least 11,000 birds died from the flu on a Woodstock-area turkey farm with the remaining 34,000 birds destroyed on April 8. That farm and 28 others within 10 kilometres were quarantined.
On April 19, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) destroyed 27,000 chickens on a broiler breeder chicken farm in Oxford County after an unknown number of birds on that farm died from the virus.
On April 26, the disease struck a third time in Oxford County — an 8,000-bird turkey farm.
The CFIA says the first two farms are not linked, and suspects the disease was brought onto the farms by migratory birds.
After the disease strikes, getting back to business is another nightmare. John Beking, of Beking’s Poultry Farm at Oxford Station near Ottawa has about 22,000 laying hens and said he would need six to nine months to replenish his supply of hens. After euthanizing the infected birds, it would take about a month to clean and disinfect the property and get it tested again to make sure the disease was completely gone. Then it would be at least a five-month wait to get the 19-week-old laying hens. And since he staggers the age of the birds on his property to ensure he always has eggs, he wouldn’t get the full 22,000 hens at one time.
“For any business that shuts down for that amount of time, it would be quite devastating,” he said.
He added that producers carry insurance, which would cover most of their losses but the longer you are out of business, the harder it is to recover, he said.
Brent Royce, a Listowel-area turkey farmer who has about 30,000 birds a year, but never more than 10,000 at any one time, said everyone is on high alert. He has stepped up his biosecurity since the bird flu hit Ontario. All trucks coming onto the farm must be washed and disinfected, and visitors to the barn must sanitize their hands and change their boots and coveralls.
“I’m hopeful that it’s not going to (wind up on my farm),” said Royce, who was named Farm & Food Care Ontario’s champion in April for his work advocating agriculture. “I try not to worry about things I can’t control. I’m hoping it’s as bad as it will get and it’s not going to get any worse.”
Royce said if his farm ever had the bird flu, the impact would be “huge. Even if it doesn’t happen on my farm, and it happened on a neighbour’s farm, it’s a fairly large impact with the quarantine area and moving feed, birds, policing birds, shipping birds, rules for cleaning out and everything.”
In Ontario, there are 187 turkey farms and more than 1,100 commercial chicken farms and about 15,000 small flock operations. There are also more than 400 egg and pullet farms in the province.
In December, there were 11 farms diagnosed with the disease in British Columbia. As of May 7, there were at least 133 confirmed cases in the United States. The disease was found on an Iowa farm on May 1, leading to the destruction of about 5.7 million birds on that one farm alone. Due to disease and a policy to destroy affected flocks, the U.S. has lost about 25.7 million birds as of May 7, while B.C. has lost 245,600.
Japan, Hong Kong, Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan have banned Ontario poultry meat as of May 7.
The London Poultry Show scheduled for early April was cancelled, while Farm & Food Care Ontario’s June 6 Breakfast on the Farm event, which was to be held on a poultry farm in Western Ontario, has been postponed.
The highly-contagious disease is easily spread as wild birds can carry the disease and the worst strain can kill an entire flock within 48 hours.