Via the News-Monitor in Wahpeto, Minnesota: Muehler: ‘The birds are falling dead in front of you, it’s that traumatic’ Excerpt:
Muehler Turkey Farms Inc. has taken extra measures to prevent the infectious avian influenza from hitting its flocks. There is a sign to stop any vehicle from entering the farm, unless they are on a business call. Passersby are not allowed into the turkey barns because avian influenza can be carried on the soles of shoes or clothing.
[Dave] Muehler said they have even gone so far as to leave coveralls and foot gear in each barn to avoid cross contamination from one barn into another.
Despite these precautions, there are variables Muehler cannot control. Scientists consider wild migratory waterfowl to be a natural carrier for avian influenza. While wild flocks typically do not become sick from the flu virus, they can spread it through their droppings.
There are wild waterfowl flying over Muehler’s turkey barns daily as the migration is in full swing. “Just the act of taking equipment outside to a barn is a risk in itself,” Muehler said, since the droppings of a wild bird could pass the virus along by catching itself on a tire. He said avian influenza can live in the environment for quite some time.
The cases of the high pathogenic avian influenza are following migratory birds from Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas, he said.
Beyond the migratory birds, Muehler receives feed meal from Jennie-O, so that offers another risk as trucks drive from farm to farm to deliver feed for turkeys. Drivers are carefully disinfecting their trucks between farms and wear special booties when they get out of their trucks. “When they turn off the highway they are cleaning their wheels on the way in,” Muehler said.
Infected birds will not find their way into the food supply as each flock is tested during processing for both the low and high pathogenic avian flu. So far since Muehler Turkey Farms Inc. has been in existence on Hankinson’s western edge since 1949, the Muehler flocks have remained free of avian flu.
“You can do everything right and there are still certain things out of your control. You’ve got that bird that flies over and leaves some droppings right behind them, and that opens the door,” Muehler said.
The first sign of avian influenza is a type of depression in a turkey, which can go unnoticed until dead birds begin to pile up. Muehler said there can be a dozen dead birds one day, then hundreds the next and thousands the next day. He has 10,000 birds in each barn, so that type of loss is catastrophic.
“The birds are falling over dead in front of you, it’s that traumatic,” he added.
He brought in 10,000 newly-hatched turkeys Friday last week, a decision that wasn’t easy to make as the birds are coming from Willmar, Minnesota, which is close to where three cases of avian flu have been confirmed.
“I came to the conclusion that you can’t run scared from this thing. You have to have some confidence that you will be able to keep it out. If you cancel birds coming in, you’ve affected your livelihood,” Muehler said. “We felt we need to keep going forward with business as usual and tighten our bio-security.”