As cases of highly pathogenic bird flu crop up in New York, New Jersey and Delaware, poultry and game bird producers in Pennsylvania fear their state may be next.
The threat of disease was the focus of the 2022 Pennsylvania Game Ranchers and Game Preserves Conference held Feb. 28 at State College.
While much of the disease affects commercial poultry farms and backyard chicken flocks, those who keep game birds like pheasants, quails and chukars need to be equally vigilant, according to Megan Lighty, avian diagnostic and outreach veterinarian with Penn State Extension.
In fact, the nature of how game birds are typically raised puts producers in a unique position when it comes to protecting themselves against avian flu.
“You are at a disadvantage because you have birds outside,” she said. “The highest risk is the East Coast, but every grower in the United States should be on high alert.”
Although circumstances may differ, the ways to protect birds from an outbreak remain similar among all poultry and game bird producers. It all comes down to a solid biosecurity plan, Lighty said, warning that state and federal authorities take enforcement seriously.
“If your herd is in a control area and you can’t prove you have a biosecurity plan, you won’t be allowed to move anything off the farm,” she said. “Make sure you have a plan and make sure it’s written down.”
Most game birds are bred for hunting purposes in paid operations, and Lighty advised producers to avoid getting involved in the business themselves when it comes to game species. wild birds. Harvesting wild birds and returning them to the farm could be a source of spreading bird flu, she said.
“Wild bird hunting is a huge risk right now. Now is not the time to go hunting,” Lighty said.
One of the largest propagators of pheasants on the east coast is the Pennsylvania Game Commission, raising more than 200,000 chicks on two farms in the state.
Pheasant chicks arrive at the agency’s farms in April and they spend the first weeks inside the brooders before being moved to spacious outdoor yards. Although it is recommended to keep poultry indoors to reduce contact with wild birds, keeping pheasants indoors is not an option on PGC game farms.
“Raising pheasants on game farms is a completely different ball game in terms of space needed and environmental conditions compared to an industrial poultry farm where the birds are not expected to need survive outside, or a flock of 10 chickens,” agency spokesman Travis Lau said. “We keep over 120,000 birds per farm, and these birds need to be able to fly well and have some level of ability to feed themselves, and some level of resistance to the weather conditions they will encounter when in storage. in nature.”
But the agency is taking steps to maintain biosecurity on farms and protect pheasants from the risk of disease.
“All breeding yards and holding fields are fenced and have overhead netting which prevents interaction with large wild birds and limits interaction with small wild birds,” Lau said. “We practice rigorous biosecurity and bird flu monitoring on our game farms to protect our pheasants from bird flu and other diseases.”