Raise your hand if you think that AI stands for Artificial Intelligence or Artificial Insemination. Actually, it did, and still does, depending whether you identify with high tech terminology or agricultural reproductive systems. Right now, however, it is the acronym de jour for Avian Influenza or, as it is more commonly known, “Bird Flu”.This is a big deal nationally, because, as of this writing, 47 million birds have been euthanized. The number equates to about 10 percent of the nation’s laying hens. This sobering statistic is brought to us, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The reality is the increase in the price of eggs and that is brought to us by our local grocery store. In May, a dozen eggs averaged $1.22. Last week, it sold for over $2.00!
I read the other day, that a Penn State Extension Poultry scientist said that the loss of that number of birds would roughly be equal to the populations of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles all checking out at the same time. The Midwest has been hardest hit with most of the cases found in Iowa and Minnesota but, as many as fifteen states are now reporting the presence of the disease.
AI is a virus that may cause illness in domestic poultry, fowl, and birds. Migratory waterfowl are a natural carrier for his pathogen, and their fly-over routes cover a lot of territory. Being airborne is not the problem; the overnight stops to refuel and rest are the issue. These sleepovers apparently contaminate the indigenous species of wild birds who, in turn, spread the virus to the local poultry populace.
There are many strains of the virus, with most causing little to no clinical signs. This is the low pathogenic version (LPAI) but, under certain field conditions, the virus will mutate to the (HPAI) highly pathogenic type, causing an extremely infectious and fatal form of the disease. Once introduced into a flock, it can spread by direct bird-to-bird contact or by mechanical transmission via manure, equipment, vehicles, and crates. Employees and visitors can also carry this virus on contaminated clothing and shoes.
Birds infected with AI may exhibit one or more of these signs:
- Sudden death without clinical signs
- Lack of energy or appetite
- Decreased egg production
- Soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
- Swelling of the head, eyelid, comb, wattles, and hocks
- Purple discoloration of the wattles, comb, and legs
- Nasal discharge
- Coughing and sneezing
I realize that a lot of these symptoms appear in many more diseases and conditions in our flocks on a regular basis. If you notice unusual death or some of the above signs, call your private veterinarian or the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) immediately at 800-550-8242. A veterinarian is on call 24 hours a day. If conditions warrant, a Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostician (FADD) may be dispatched to collect samples for laboratory testing and to begin a disease investigation.
Are you worried yet? I am, but, last night, I go some more optimistic news about the current outbreak. Texas, thus far, has been spared. The virus does not like the heat. Because of this, we may dodge the bullet, altogether. This information comes to me from a major chicken producer in the Gonzalez area.
So, it seems that the over 90 degree days are actually something to be thankful for. Let’s quit griping about the heat so that we can keep getting eggs in our breakfast tacos!
Mike Young – Callahan’s General Store