Saturday, May 16, 2015

Iowa Egg Farms Decimated by Bird Flu

 Image from Reuters

New York Times:
Iowa, where one in every five eggs consumed in the country is laid, has been the hardest hit: More than 40 percent of its egg-laying hens are dead or dying. Many are in this region, where barns house up to half a million birds in cages stacked to the rafters. The high density of these egg farms helps to explain why the flu, which can kill 90 percent or more of a flock within 48 hours, is decimating more birds in Iowa than in other states.
And the numbers are also staggeringly high because farmers like Mr. Dean are required to euthanize (with carbon dioxide gas or foam) all the flocks on a farm even if only a few barns are infected. Center Fresh, for example, was able to contain the infection to just two of its barns, but all of its hens must be destroyed as a precautionary measure.
“It’s far too soon to know how significant the impact will be, but I know it will be significant,” Mr. Dean said in an interview at the Sioux Country Livestock Company, a restaurant on Main Street that serves as a local meeting place. Culling the flocks and decontaminating the barns could take months, he said, adding that it could be two years or more before Center Fresh recovers.
Some hens here were still laying eggs in barns that had yet to be emptied — and those eggs were being sold as a liquid product after undergoing a federally required extra pasteurization step....
Known as “chicken central,” Sioux County ranks 13th in the country in the amount of revenue generated by agriculture, about $1.6 billion in 2012, after counties producing high-value fruit, vegetable and nut crops in California, Colorado and Washington State.
The losses also affect a wide range of support businesses, ranging from bank lenders and insurers to trucking operations, feed mills and farmers. “It’s devastating to the producers and devastating to this whole area,” said Mark Sybesma, chairman of the Sioux County Board of Supervisors.
After the egg producers themselves, the business most immediately hit by the crisis is that of breeding the chicks and pullets that become laying hens. Center Fresh, for instance, buys several hundred thousand chicks a month.
Those companies have carefully timed production schedules and must find new buyers for their birds quickly or be forced to euthanize their own live inventory.
This outbreak highlights one of the dangers of relying a heavily concentrated livestock sector in a small geographic area.  If this bird flu were to hit the layer flocks in Mercer and Darke County, Ohio and surrounding areas in eastern Indiana, we would have the three largest egg-laying states nearly wiped out. Much like in Sioux County, egg production in Ohio is heavily concentrated in these two counties.  The infrastructure supporting these operations would be badly damaged by the impact.  Hopefully the disease will soon be contained, but large-scale agriculture can take some lessons from this very damaging outbreak.

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