Farms mostly at full production after bird flu

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, June 7, 2016

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s turkey and chicken farms are mostly back to full production after last year’s bird flu outbreak devastated more than 100 poultry operations in the state.

The state announced its first case of the H5N2 strain of avian flu in March 2015 and confirmed its last case last June. Minnesota Public Radio News reports there haven’t been any new cases of bird flu in the state since then.

The outbreak led to the deaths of 49 million chickens and turkeys in 15 states; Minnesota, the country’s top turkey producer, and Iowa, the top chicken-egg producer, were the hardest hit. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration resumed inspections of egg-handling facilities in 21 states last week after more than a year of suspending them.

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In southern Minnesota, the barns at Pullet Connection chicken farm are now nearly full of young birds. Last year, the family farm near Redwood Falls, Minnesota, had to destroy more than 400,000 birds.

“The process was so difficult to go through that you never want to do it again,” co-owner Barb Frank said.

Researchers still don’t know how H5N2 spread so quickly, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife research manager Lou Cornicelli said, though he noted there’s no doubt that migrating geese and ducks played a role.

Tom DeLiberto said his researcher team at the National Wildlife Research Center in Colorado found in its lab experiments that the bird flu can be spread by skunks and rabbits to ducks.

“It shows that there’s a transmission mechanism between mammals and birds for influenza that could occur in nature,” he said, adding that the transmission method hasn’t been confirmed in the wild, but is a new theory to explore.