By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The sweltering heat wave hasn't just taken a toll on Virginians' health, it has also wiped out more than a half-million turkeys and chickens across the commonwealth.
"The valley probably took as big a hit as anything," Virginia Poultry Federation President Hobey Bauhan said Friday. "It was just a combination of the storm loss of power [and] extreme heat. We lost about 560,000 chickens and turkeys statewide."
Most of those -- about 450,000 -- were turkeys. And, that's just what had been reported to Bauhan by this July 3.
"That number could have gone up somewhat," he said.
One of those growers badly hit was Adam Long, manager of Franwood Farms Inc. in New Market. He said the operation started by his ancestors lost about 20,000 of its 150,000 turkeys.
Their deaths came before the June 30 massive storm.
"We had everything from extra fans and all that stuff -- 105 degrees [will take a toll on] pretty much any animal," Long said. "It was just 48 hours of straight picking up dead turkeys with about 20 guys."
Adding to the financial misery, Franwood Farms had to use six tractors to power generators for about two days after the storm, he said.
The farm's 22 turkey houses are home to turkeys of three different age groups, and the younger birds fared better in the heat, according to Long. He said only 800 birds were lost among the younger group.
Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Bobby Clark said the circumstances surrounding the poultry losses were "apparently unusual."
"It gets hot every year, but there was something about the fact ... it had been cool and then it got unusually hot very fast," he said. "I think that, combined with the humidity, is what caused exceptional poultry losses."
And, there's little farmers can do to make up for such losses, according to Clark.
"Farmers can insure their corn crops and their apple crops and various types of crops, but they don't have a mechanism to insure against these type of losses," he said. "As best I can tell, it's not an ongoing thing...I haven't heard the real bad situation has continued. With the thunderstorms and the cooler weather coming, hopefully, that will alleviate a lot of the heat stress."
While scorching temperatures are expected to continue through the weekend, Monday's high is 83 degrees, followed by a high of 82 degrees on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service's website.
However, the heat index on Saturday can be as high as 107, and for Sunday 101, according to the site.
And though the poultry losses may be "devastating to individual farmers" and processors, Bauhan doesn't expect the prices of chicken and turkey to go up in grocery stores. That's due to the minimal impact on the poultry supply -- 250 million chickens and 17 to 18 million turkeys are grown annually in Virginia, he said.