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Health

Bird flu is popping up in backyard and commercial flocks in the Midwest

Hens roam in Laura Krouse's Mount Vernon, Iowa pasture. Krouse said if bird flu appeared in her flock it would take a "significant bite" from her income.
Laura Krouse
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Hens roam in Laura Krouse's Mount Vernon, Iowa pasture. Krouse said if bird flu appeared in her flock it would take a "significant bite" from her income.

Cases of bird flu have been confirmed in a commercial flock of 50,000 turkeys in Iowa, a commercial operation of 360,000 broiler chickens in Missouri, and a flock of more than 36,000 mixed species of birds in South Dakota.

The highly contagious virus has also reached backyard flocks in Iowa, Missouri and Michigan, among other states.

Poultry producers, backyard flock owners, state officials and scientists are watching closely as a deadly strain of bird flu spreads across the eastern half of the U.S. During an outbreak in 2014-2015 more than 50 million birds were destroyed, with the bulk of the impact in Iowa and Minnesota.

Agriculture officials are cautioning people to be especially careful with their flocks and keep them away from wild birds during the spring migration.

“We’d encourage anybody that has outside birds or backyard birds to make sure that that interaction with wild birds is closely monitored,” said State Veterinarian of Iowa Jeff Kaisand during a call with reporters after the state’s first case was confirmed in a backyard flock of chickens and ducks.

Laura Krouse raises 125 hens on pasture near Mount Vernon, Iowa. Right now her birds are kept in a chicken house inside of a shed, so she said she's not overly concerned about bird flu. But it’s on her mind.

“It would be a pretty significant bite on my income,” Krouse said. “I depend on my egg sales.”

Kevin Stiles, the executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association, stressed that farmers have methods in place to prevent diseases from getting onto their farm.

They practice “biosecurity,” an industry term that means keeping diseases and viruses away from birds and people. Producers often do things like washing their boots before they enter a barn, showering before they enter their barn and when they leave, and limiting visitors on their farm.

“It is important to know that our farmers are well-prepared and have comprehensive on-farm practices in place to prevent the spread of disease,” Stiles said in a statement. “Farm biosecurity is at its highest level, and we will remain at that heightened level of protection for the foreseeable future.”

Follow Katie on Twitter @katiepeikes 

Harvest Public Media reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues through a collaborative network of NPR stations throughout the Midwest and Plains.

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