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More than 1 million egg-laying hens to be culled after bird flu hits Wright County flock

In this Nov. 16, 2009 file photo, chickens stand in their cages at a farm near Stuart, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall
AP file
Iowa has been hit harder by bird flu than any other state this year.

A flock of more than a million egg-laying hens is the latest to be hit by bird flu in Iowa.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship said Monday that a case of highly pathogenic avian influenza was found in a commercial layer flock in Wright County.

A spokesman said the flock has approximately 1.1 million birds. As of Monday afternoon, depopulation, which means all birds in the flock are being destroyed to prevent the virus from spreading, is ongoing, the spokesman said.

The case is the first one to be found in Wright County this year, and the 21st case in Iowa since March 1. It’s also the second case to surface in a backyard or commercial flock this fall. The virus was confirmed in a backyard flock of 48 birds in Dallas County on Oct. 20.

In a statement, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig stressed the difficult time egg and poultry producers are facing.

“We have been preparing for the possibility of additional outbreaks and are working closely with USDA and producers to eradicate this disease from our state,” Naig said in a statement. “With migration ongoing, we continue to emphasize the need for strict biosecurity on poultry farms and around backyard flocks to help prevent and limit the spread of this destructive virus.”

Wild birds, especially shorebirds and waterfowl, can carry the virus in their intestinal tract and shed it through their excrement or saliva. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has attributed the spread of bird flu throughout the country this year primarily to wild birds. It's still unknown how the virus is moving from wild birds’ droppings and saliva into poultry facilities and chicken coops.

Wild birds are on their fall migration southward to their wintering grounds, and fall migration tends to be slower than spring migration, Iowa State University extension wildlife specialist Adam Janke recently told IPR. Janke said big congregations of waterfowl in Iowa happen in November.

Iowa, the nation’s top egg-producing state, has been hit harder by bird flu than any other state this year. More than 14.4 million commercial and backyard birds in the state have died from bird flu or been killed to contain the virus.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.