A poultry farm event at the Carroll County Agriculture Center was canceled on Saturday, a direct result of the “serious” avian influenza threat which is seemingly creeping closer and closer to Georgia.
HPAI, or LPAI, has not been found in local poultry, according to the Georgia Department of Agriculture. But due to the recent confirmations of avian influenza in Tennessee and reported investigations in Alabama between March 4 and 16, in an effort to minimize the risk of introduction of in local flocks, the state is issuing recommendations for all poultry producers and enthusiasts (commercial and backyard).
State Veterinarian Dr. Robert M. Cobb issued a statement saying that effective immediately, all poultry exhibitions, shows, sales (flea markets, auction markets), swaps, and meets in the state of Georgia are suspended until further notice.
Paula Burke, Extension coordinator and Agriculture and Natural Resources agent of the UGA Extension-Carroll County, said orders have been issued by the Georgia Department of Agriculture for farmers to take immediate action to protect their flocks. Carroll is annually among the top poultry-producing counties in Georgia.
“Poultry production is the number one agricultural product in Georgia and would have a tremendous impact on the state of Georgia and Carroll County if we had avian influenza enter the state,” said Burke. “We have a large commercial and backyard poultry production in Carroll County and we were even hosting something for poultry farmers at the Ag Center on Saturday but we could not risk it because it is important that we prevent this thing from spreading. What we want to make sure happen is that avian influenza does not come to Georgia and the only way to try to prevent that is to try to prevent the risk of spreading.”
Burke said Georgia flocks are at risk because of the wild migrating waterfowl — the ducks and the geese flying south stop in Georgia and Florida. They are carriers of the virus and spread it through their waste, which can drop as they are in the fly zones.
“So a human walking somewhere may step where that manure dropped; then they can end up walking to their chickens at work or personal coop and have unknowingly just infected their flock,” she said. “The commercial poultry side is on top of things with their strict commercial standards by our concern is for the large amount of backyard farmers in Carroll County.”
Burke said there is no concern for people eating chicken because it’s not a food consumption issue. She said the risk is poultry that could get the disease and die, thus affecting the farmers economically.
“What I worry about is we have a strong backyard poultry farm crew out here who do not know what is going on and may not understand that they are at potential risk as well,” said Burke. “So this is why the Department of Agriculture is saying they want to keep the movement of the chickens down to a minimum by putting this into effect and this is why we immediately canceled the event.
“You have to practice really good biosecurity and some of the simple things people can do is the shoes and the clothes that you wear on your farm or around chickens should really stay at home. You also should not be wearing them out at the local feed stores to pick up your chicken feed. If you are wearing barn boots out and about and I step where you step, I could take it and bring it home to my chickens. So disinfect your shoes, and keep people from visiting your farm for right now because you want to minimize that exposure. These are all good things in general if you have a large flock of poultry to keep disease and illness at bay.”
Among the safety measures issued by the Department of Agriculture, all outdoor poultry should be moved into biosecure housing. Any contact with wild birds of any kind, especially waterfowl, their habitat, or their droppings should be avoided. If this is not possible, the Georgia Department of Agriculture should be notified. Also, If you use rendering for dead poultry disposal, verify that the trucks are disinfected at each pickup and that the freezer area is kept clean and clutter-free. If you use rendering pick-up for livestock, do the same. If you visit a rendering plant for any livestock, clean and disinfect your vehicle before returning to your farm.
Burke encouraged poultry farmers to stay alert by being in touch with the Extension office or to enroll in the National Poultry Improvement Plan. Contact the HPAI HOTLINE for reporting of sick birds or for questions related to HPAI, Georgia Department of Agriculture, www.ga-ai.org, 855-491-1432, or Georgia Poultry Laboratory, www.gapoultrylab.org, 770-766-6850.