COLORADO, USA — There will be no poultry shows at the Colorado State Fair this summer. You can blame the avian flu.
The highly contagious illness was first detected in the state back in March, prompting commercial and backyard farms to take biosecurity measures.
"For us, it's just about being a little bit more conscientious of the girls," said Kristen DeWitt, owner of Skål Farm.
To protect her flock of 25 chickens against the avian flu, Dewitt keeps an extra eye on her laying ladies.
“This year we got a call a month or so ago to let us know that it was in Colorado, but they assured me it wasn’t anywhere close. Then, two weeks ago we got a visit by the state vets saying that it was in our area," she said. “This is clearly such a big deal that when they hand us the pamphlets about biosecurity, there’s also information about dealing with the stress of your flock potentially having it. So I assume that’s for the bigger producers who stand to lose their whole livelihood if they lost their birds.”
She said it's the first time she's had to worry about HPAI, or highly pathogenic avian influenza, in the 10 years she's been operating her urban farm.
"Now, I'm going to be looking in there every night and then finding some of their favorite spots and looking under them just to make sure there's not a dead bird," she said. “It’s the HPAI, so highly pathogenic. It’s moving pretty quickly.”
So far this year in Colorado, 1.4 million birds in two commercial flocks have been impacted by HPAI.
The disease is extremely deadly for birds, with a 90% to 100% mortality rate. It's killed nearly 38 million birds across the country.
Only one person has contracted it in Colorado -- a farm worker who was dealing with infected dead birds in a Montrose outbreak.
"We hope that hot, dry weather will help tamp it down, but we will be here to mitigate and respond as long as the outbreak is ongoing," said Kate Greenberg, Commissioner of Agriculture for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. "We are not necessarily able to correlate how HPAI has impacted the food system or food supply. Right now, we're not seeing a direct impact there. We continue to have robust, abundant, safe food supply."
But out of an abundance of caution, the Colorado State Fair has decided to cancel all of its poultry shows this summer.
"This disease is so highly transmittable between birds that the fear is if you were to bring them together in any context you have a much greater risk of transmission," Greenberg said. “I think the fact that our state fair has canceled the shows is an indicator that we are doing our best to keep our flocks as safe as possible.”
And DeWitt will also be keeping a close watch on her girls.
“It’s the waterfowl that’s spreading it the most, so we’re being cautious when we take walks with the family. We’re doing it with our city shoes instead of our farm shoes," she said. "We've wired shut the door, too, and that's where we put the scraps and all the chicken feed, so hopefully it's just them and one of our naughty dogs in there."
Because of the seriousness of the outbreak, the Ag Commission instituted an emergency rule suspending all poultry shows, meets, sales, swaps and competitions until June 30. That ban may be extended and could also impact poultry shows at county fairs this summer.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture suggests flock owners:
- Increase biosecurity. This includes keeping birds indoors as much as possible. Remove bird feeders for wild birds, especially if they're near a domestic flock.
- Monitor flocks for any signs of illness, including lack of energy, sudden loss of appetite and death.
- Report sick birds or unusual bird deaths by calling the Colorado State Veterinarian's Office at 303-869-9130
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