Sixteen cases of Avian influenza (AI), commonly referred to as bird flu, have popped up in Alberta as of Monday morning and with no treatment for the disease, it could be detrimental to the province’s poultry sector.
David Hyink is a long-time chicken farmer from outside of Lacombe, he said he’s never seen anything like this before in Alberta, and that makes him worried for the health of his birds and his livelihood.
“Birds that we have just have no resistance at all to this virus,” he said.
“It’ll immediately start killing the whole flock.”
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Avian flu can be transmitted through wild birds, especially waterfowl, and though they’re not normally affected by the disease, they can still transmit it to domestic birds, which in turn can produce an outbreak as it’s highly infectious.
The disease can spread to birds through contact with infected poultry and poultry products, along with being spread through contaminated manure, litter, clothing, footwear, vehicles, equipment, feed and water.
Dr. Teryn Girard, a poultry veterinarian with the Prairie Livestock Veterinarians, calls the situation “devastating” for local chicken farmers as many haven’t had to deal with AI before.
“I think it’s really important right now to realize how hard this is on our farmers (as) these farms are often family-owned farms,” she said.
“It’s devastating to them when they get it (AI), or if they get it. But it’s also devastating to walk into the barn each day and not know if it’s going to be in there.”
Girard, who also is the vet for Cargill Animal Nutrition in western Canada, said producers are doing everything they can with biosecurity to keep the disease out, keep their birds healthy and get safe and quality food onto the tables.
Though it’s unlikely farmers are welcoming people to their property due to the high risk, Girard added it’s best to take a raincheck when it comes to visiting friends and family who have a chicken farm as the disease can spread easily with just a drop of infected water.
For those with backyard chickens, she recommends to also avoid visits from outsiders and to take biosecurity very seriously.
“Changing foot attire when visiting the premise — so putting on a different pair of shoes that haven’t been near other birds or other farms — and then limiting visitations obviously to the farm and tracking who’s coming to the farm to visit (along with) monitoring bird health.”
Some symptoms birds could have when infected include:
- a drop in production of eggs, many of which are soft-shelled or shell-less
- haemorrhages on the hock
- high and sudden mortality rate
- quietness and extreme depression
- swelling of the skin under the eyes
- wattles and combs become swollen
For smaller farms, visitors should, for the most part, stay away. However, if outside contact is necessary for suppliers or staff, several safety protocols must be followed. That’s something Hyink said he’s taking very seriously on his farm.
“Before trucks and other people come into the yard, they’re spraying off their tires with disinfectant, they’re wearing protective clothing as well and avoiding any unnecessary contact,” he said.
While AI might not be dangerous to humans, it’s not just farm birds that are catching this flu and several organizations across the province are working fast to ensure the safety of their animals as the virus continues to spread.
The Calgary Zoo has enacted its highest level of precaution, moving the penguins and just about every other bird within its facility indoors.
“The city is almost completely surrounded by Avian flu outbreaks,” said Alison Archambault, brand and engagement director with the zoo.
“As soon as the Avian flu was noted 100 kilometers north of us, we moved into the red phase.”
Meanwhile, the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre has upped its biosecurity protocols and is no longer accepting waterfowl or corvids.
The centre has also begun fundraising efforts for an isolation trailer where they can treat infected birds.