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Biosecurity basics for poultry operations as avian influenza spreads in the region

Abby Schuft, Extension educator with the University of Minnesota, shares biosecurity protocols for on-farm employees and service providers to keep avian influenza away from flocks.

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The highly pathogenic avian influenza continues to impact poultry operations in the U.S.
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Agweek Podcast: Biosecurity basics for poultry farms
Wed Mar 30 17:26:25 EDT 2022
Agweek reporter Noah Fish is joined by Abby Schuft, an Extension educator with the University of Minnesota, who works with poultry farmers across the state on applied biosecurity. Schuft talks about the tips for farm workers and service providers to prevent Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) from getting into poultry flocks.

With the avian influenza spreading throughout the region, now is the time for biosecurity to ramp up on poultry operations and for consumers to continue to support the poultry industry, an expert says.

Abby Schuft is an Extension educator with the University of Minnesota who works with poultry farmers across the state. Based in Willmar, Schuft focuses on applied biosecurity and National Poultry Improvement Plan Biosecurity Plan audits.

Schuft said that avian influenza comes in two forms. There’s the low pathogenicity, which she said is a more common virus, and there tends to be a few cases in the state each year. Then there’s what's affecting the state right now, which is the highly pathogenic avian influenza, which she said is extremely contagious.

“It's highly virulent, which means it does spread so easily and very intensely,” she said. “And it has fatal implications for our domestic poultry.”

HPAI now has been detected in 2022 in flocks in Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota.

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A spring avian influenza outbreak is somewhat rare, said Schuft, but it all comes down to how migrations are working this year and how the virus is spreading.

“We have seen this particular strain in Europe and Asia for over a year,” Schuft said. “So it was more a matter of how it was going to get across the ocean logistically.”

Farm employees

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Abby Schuft
Courtesy / University of Minnesota

Schuft said that for on-farm employees at poultry operations, it’s important to “absolutely and completely understand what your protocols are” for enhanced biosecurity.

“Right now it is our farm workers' primary role to keep the farm negative from highly pathogenic avian influenza, and that will ultimately look different on each farm premises, but to know that they're going to need to be flexible, and it might not be business as usual,” she said. “They might be requested to participate in extra biosecurity protocols, maybe changing in and out of booties more frequently during the day, or wearing different coveralls and showering more frequently.”

She said that intensity is what might differ in biosecurity between commercial and backyard flocks. Schuft said while commercial operations probably have strict biosecurity plans in place, backyard flocks are encouraged to implement more biosecurity.

“Many backyard flock owners might not necessarily think what they do is biosecurity, but there's probably a lot of actions that they complete each day that truly is biosecurity, they just might not associate that word with what they do,” she said.

That would include wearing barn or coop specific footwear.

“So if you have chore boots, or chore shoes, to make sure they’re wearing those only in the area where their chickens are being kept, and that they leave them there, so that there's no potential tracking of any feces or litter across the yard or into your car, for example,” she said. “Commercial farms are going to do the same sort of thing.”

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Line of separation

For entrances to single barns on multi-barn sites, barn biosecurity is key, said Schuft, and operations need a line of separation around each barn in addition to the separation area for the farm unit. Lines of separation define clean areas from dirty areas.

“That line of separation is going to be a functional line that's going to separate your birds from the rest of the world,” Schuft said. “And not to turn anybody into a germaphobe, but we should assume that environmentally, the virus exists everywhere else in the world. And we want to try to keep it out of the space that your birds are inhabiting.”

Keeping a line of separation requires following these rules:

  • Always assume the area around the barn is contaminated.
  • Avoid bringing outside contamination inside the barn.
  • Have a secure entry of people and equipment to the barn.

“That line of separation might be the walls and the door to your coop, or it might be the walls and barn door, or however you have your birds housed,” she said. “And so crossing that line of separation is going to be that functional line of where you keep the outside out and keep the inside.”

Common errors

Schuft said the common errors when it comes to biosecurity will be complacency and rushing.

“That's when errors happen, when you become complacent,” said Schuft. “And if you're trying to get in and out too quickly.”

She said that farm workers need to be mentally present and truly thinking about each of the steps each and every time that they are entering and exiting a barn, and making sure they are following the farm protocol.

“They've done it hundreds of times, but it just takes one time,” she said.

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Service providers

For service providers, Schuft said that biosecurity may mean having them stay off the farm entirely. That's especially true for farms that are in the control area of farms that had a detection of avian influenza — which is a 6.2 mile radius around the infected premises.

“Most often those farms that are affected will already be saying, we want to limit movements to our facility, so we are going to delay our garbage pickup for the week, and we are going to come to the post office to pick up any packages ourselves so they're not being delivered,” Schuft said. “Those requests will not likely be uncommon, so don't be surprised or taken off guard if those requests are made of you as a service provider.”

She said if you are a service provider and you're still being asked to service a poultry operation, call the farm owners beforehand and ask what biosecurity steps you should take.

“Take a proactive approach to safely do your job so that that farm can safely continue to do their job,” she said.

Continuing support

For consumers of poultry, now more than ever is the time to support our poultry industries, Schuft said.

“Our (poultry) products are still safe to eat and consume, and none of these affected birds are entering our food chain,” she said. “Like any other food product, they're highly tested before they even enter the food system, so the poultry products that you like to enjoy and consume on a regular basis are still going to be safe to eat.”

Related Topics: MINNESOTAPOULTRY
Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast.

While covering agriculture he's earned awards for his localized reporting on the 2018 trade war, and breaking news coverage of a fifth-generation dairy farm that was forced to sell its herd when a barn roof collapsed in the winter of 2019. His reporting focuses on the intersection of agriculture, food and culture.

He reports out of Rochester, Minnesota, and can be reached at nfish@agweek.com
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