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171,000 turkeys at 6 Indiana farms euthanized due to avian flu

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Avian influenza is still causing problems at Indiana turkey farms and has forced farmers to euthanize at least 171,000 birds. 

Six farms in southern Indiana have had to cull their flocks recently because of avian flu.

The farms are miles apart, so the illness was not spread by the birds intermingling. Denise Spears, public information director for the Indiana Board of Animal Health, says migratory birds and flooded farm fields may have helped the flu move from farm to farm.

“We don’t know exactly it would have gotten from one farm to another,” Spears said. “We don’t know of any connection that moves from farm to farm. There are external factors, like migratory waterfowl, which are known to carry [avian influenza]. They spread it with their droppings.”

A typical turkey barn in Indiana has thousands of birds under one roof, and once the flu virus is detected in one bird, the entire flock will likely become infected. The flock is “depopulated” with a foam and all of the turkey feed, feathers, and carcasses are composted onsite to stop the flu from spreading. The USDA and state officials then monitor the compost temperatures to ensure the virus has been eliminated.

A Greene County turkey farm is the latest victim of avian flu. The farmer who owns the operation raises turkeys for Perdue farms. He tells I-Team 8 that he lost 48,000 turkeys after a flu test came back positive.

I-Team 8 contacted Perdue Farms, which responded with a statement:

“In late February, Perdue received confirmation of highly pathogenic avian influenza in two of its Indiana turkey flocks. We immediately took the appropriate measures by quarantining and depopulating the affected flock to proactively prevent potential spread of the virus.

We have been cooperating fully with the Indiana Board of Animal Health and the USDA. We are continuing to test all flocks within the USDA-defined “control zone” around the affected farm where the virus was detected.”

Bill See, Perdue Farms spokesperson

The current outbreak is not the first time Indiana poultry farmers have had to deal with avian influenza. In 2016, 11 Indiana farms lost 400,000 turkeys and chickens.

Deborah Spears says farmers learned from the outbreak of 2016 and have implemented changes as a result of it.

“They have trained their staff, they have new equipment, they have done a lot of pre-planning,” Spears said. “They know how to go through the disposal process, which is big. There has been a lot of effort into responding quickly, which can make a difference. We know if the birds get sick, there is more virus spread. It multiplies and there is a greater risk to the other farms in the area.”

Spears says the Indiana Board of Animal Health continues to be concerned about avian influenza.

“We are concerned about this. The poultry industry has a lot at stake. We are very concerned because it is an important part of Indiana agriculture and animal health,” Spears said. “We want to make sure we are protecting our food supply. We want to make sure we are protecting our economy. There are an awful lot of farmers out there and this is their livelihood.”