Farm bureau lifts avian flu-related restrictions

With the 2015 avian flu outbreak drifting further into the past, the Virginia Farm Bureau recently announced that it would lift its restrictions on employees visiting poultry farms.

According to Tony Banks, assistant director of the commodity marketing department at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, employees were not allowed on poultry farms unless there was an emergency situation prior to the new policy.

“What we told folks was that if you did not have urgent or emergency business on a poultry farm, then they needed to stay off of poultry farms,” Banks said.

Although the two strains of the virus that broke out, H5N2 and H5N8, never reached Virginia, their effects were disastrous throughout the Pacific Northwest, California and parts of the Midwest.

According to the news release, the outbreak affected more than 50.4 million birds in 212 commercial and 21 backyard flocks in 15 states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates it cost the U.S. economy roughly $3.3 million.

While the disease is largely in the past as of January, Virginia farmers can breathe a sigh of relief that they made it out unaffected, unlike the 2002 poultry outbreak.

Allan Easterly owns and operates Rendezvous Farms in Basye. He said he’s glad the disease spared Virginia.

“It’s quite a relief not to have to worry about losing them all,” he said.

Although the Virginia Farm Bureau has lifted its restrictions, Banks said it still requires certain practices for its employees, including washing shoes after coming out of chicken coups, or wearing disposable covers over footwear while in the areas.

“We’re following the industry in that we’re still maintaining our normal precautions, but the last test-positive AI (diseased) flock was in Indiana back in January,” he said. “As the weather conditions warmed, the likelihood of AI circulating in this area was decreased. Basically, the virus moved best when you have cool, damp conditions that are typically found in the spring.”

While a resurgence of the disease is unlikely, Banks still encouraged smart practices among poultry farmers. He said owners should test new birds for disease before mixing them in with older ones.

Likewise, he said farmers should avoid resting a chicken coup along a fence where the birds could come into contact with neighbors’ animals. While tool sharing should be avoided, Banks said if farmers must share, they should only do so after washing equipment thoroughly with a diluted bleach solution or another strong antiseptic.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com