Staying vigilant

Eddie Dove transfers a load of turkeys to a poultry house on his Mount Jackson farm on Wednesday. Dove and his wife Jackie are concerned about the threat of avian flu. Rich Cooley/Daily

Mount Jackson farmer Jackie Dove said she is worried about the threat of avian flu that’s hit Midwestern farms.

At Dove’s Poultry Inc., Dove and her husband Eddie house 42,000 heavy hen turkeys in nine different houses for Harrisonburg-based Cargill Inc. Each of their houses can hold between 14,000 and 14,500 birds.

Jackie Dove said that she is worried because of what an infection would cost them.

“It would wipe us out, because this is all my husband and I do and we still have a mortgage on this farm,” she said.

Some operations in the Midwest, which are similar in size to Dove’s Poultry, have felt the impact of the H5N2 strain of avian flu since Dec. 19. Since then, the virus has affected over 47 million birds, from chickens to turkeys and mixed poultry.

Turkeys are moved to a poultry house on a Mount Jackson farm owned by Eddie and Jackie Dove. Rich Cooley/Daily

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, H5 strains of avian flu are highly pathogenic and contain mortality rates between 90 and 100 percent in birds that contract it.

The virus has yet to reach Virginia. However, Jackie Dove still expressed concern about it.

To prevent any kind of virus or disease from infecting their flock, the Doves carefully monitor the biosecurity around the turkey houses.

For instance, whenever they enter the buildings to take care of the turkeys, she said they step in foot pans to sanitize their footwear.

“It’s common sense,” Jackie Dove added, “We could step in bird crap out here and take it right in to the turkeys.”

Jackie Dove

Other than herself, her husband and stepson Daniel, Jackie Dove said the only other people with access to the turkey houses are Cargill representatives.

“If somebody comes in to do work, they have to wear coveralls, plastic boots and headgear,” Jackie Dove said.

She said that they purchased the farm in 2007 to see if they could turn a profit from a poultry operation. The farm’s previous owners had experienced cases of avian flu.

“Our grow-out manager told us a couple of years ago, if this farm ever gets [the virus] again, he doesn’t know what Cargill will do,” she said.

On a day-to-day basis, Jackie Dove said they monitor the turkey houses a couple of times a day to make sure the birds are acting OK.

With their contract — which is renewed each year — Jackie Dove said they maintain the land, the houses and equipment, while Cargill supplies the turkeys and the feed.

She explained that they are walking the houses to make sure that the birds “aren’t laying around, they aren’t coughing and they aren’t snickering.”

On a given morning, Jackie Dove said they could find 14 dead birds out of 14,000, or none at all. “I personally think that is a lot … Cargill might not. But I think, ‘something might be wrong with them.'”

In general, she said that a turkey farm is a job with no real breaks or vacations. Someone has to be on hand to keep watch over the flock.

“If we get hit with this [virus], and we lose our turkeys, that’s four months of work that we’ve done for nothing. We don’t get paid and we don’t make the mortgage payment.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the virus has been found in wild birds as far east as Kentucky [http://1.usa.gov/1KX9qSH].

The 2015 threat of avian flu has also caused organizers of state and county fairs within this region to take notice.

On May 5, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture announced that it would be banning live poultry at both the State Fair of West Virginia and the Tri-County Fair, citing concerns of avian influenza.

Tom Eshelman, director of the Shenandoah County Fair, noted that live poultry events are still scheduled for this year’s fair, which runs from Aug. 28 through Sept. 5.

“It’s definitely a concern. It’s something we’re keeping an eye on,” Eshelman said, noting that they have spoken to the state’s veterinarian on the matter.

Eshelman added, “Our ability, with something like this, is we have right up until airtime to cancel if we feel it needs to be done.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com