ABBOTSFORD – A control zone was imposed on more than 50 commercial poultry farms in West Abbotsford last month following the discovery of highly pathogenic avian influenza at a local turkey farm, complicating the outlook for producers already under pressure from multiple supply chain issues.
“We’ve been meeting our chicken numbers so far as allocation and utilization numbers, and turkey and eggs are as well,” says Ray Nickel of the BC Poultry Association. “Everything is working, but it doesn’t get easier. It would be nice to have a little relief.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency established the zone east of 264 Street and south of Fraser Hwy. By press time, two local farms had tested positive.
The outbreak came just days after the province extended an order requiring commercial flocks to remain indoors until June 13 to protect them against the disease. Strict movement controls were put in place, including permits to ship live birds to market.
“We are still able to move birds to market; we’re still able to place birds. It just adds more layers that make it that much more difficult,” says Nickel. “This will affect hatcheries now, processing plants, feed companies. Everybody requires a movement permit.”
The Fraser Valley is home to 80% of the province’s poultry farms. While producers have followed red-level biosecurity measures since early April to reduce the risk of disease transmission, the federal measures will increase the pressure on producers in the heart of the province’s poultry sector.
“We have our work cut out for us in self-managing some of this movement control stuff, and it will create a significant burden on the industry,” says Nickel.
Controls remain in place until CFIA signs off on the cleaning and disinfection of subject farms and completes post-outbreak testing surveillance. This will not happen for any of the affected premises until early June at the earliest.
There is no known cause for the outbreak in Abbotsford. All birds were kept indoors, and the farm was under quarantine for five days prior to the outbreak announcement.
“[There’s] this ongoing uncertainty as to why this is happening, because we’re following protocols and rules yet we still seem to be getting outbreaks,” says Nickel.
To date, 12 flocks in BC have tested positive with more than 60,000 birds affected. All but three of the flocks are considered small flocks, which are not required to be kept indoors.
Speaking to Country Life in BC, federal agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau emphasized the need of backyard flocks to follow proper biosecurity protocols.
“It’s important to remind those who have these backyard flocks to be extremely careful,” she says. “The big commercial installations know about all these biosecurity measures, but some smaller ones don’t necessarily have these measures in place.”
The ongoing provincial order in BC allows small-lot growers to continue pasturing birds outdoors provided they adhere to biosecurity protocols drafted by the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association.
The province has pointed to migratory birds as key players in the infection of farms. By keeping birds indoors, farmers aim to reduce risk of transmission between wild and domestic flocks.
A wild bird surveillance program tests about 1,200 birds a year and 400 sediment samples, but in extending the provincial order to June 13, the province’s deputy chief veterinarian said additional measures may be required.
“The B.C. Poultry Association (BCPA) has introduced the highest biosecurity ‘code Red’ standards to support producers taking actions in limiting the spread of the virus,” the order states. “In addition to the actions being taken by the BCPA, further government actions to limit direct contact between wild birds and commercial poultry are warranted.”
The original order was meant to extend until the end of the migratory season. While additional outbreaks changed those plans, Nickel welcome the arrival of warm weather at the end of May following a cool, damp spring.
“The good news is it’s warming up, so hopefully this summertime weather will bring some of this to an end,” he says.