An information session on the avian influenza outbreak is slated for Nov. 1 in Chilliwack to assist small-flock poultry owners with everything from virus detection to prevention.
Vicky Bowes, a specialist veterinarian from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, is one of several experts leading the charge with these seminars across B.C.
With four outbreaks having hit B.C. to date, this one appears to be standing out in stark contrast.
“It’s extraordinarily lethal,” Bowes said. “It kills indiscriminately and rapidly. It’s nasty.”
In previous bird flu outbreaks, ministry officials noted that small flocks were not part of the “outbreak dynamic.”
“This is a completely different outbreak in which small flocks are a significant component,” Bowes said.
They are seeing more detection in smaller flocks rather than in large, commercial flocks.
“It’s moved around by wild birds, and there is a large number of detections in wild birds. That’s what is driving it, with wild birds that are dying from it.”
Bowes and a colleague have just completed a series of info sessions on Vancouver Island before setting up similar events on the Lower Mainland including the Chilliwack event on Nov. 1 in Yarrow for small flock owners.
Who are the sessions designed for exactly?
“Truthfully they are open to anyone seeking more information on avian influenza,” Bowes said. “The public engagement aspect of what we do is important, but often neglected.”
But the sessions are really targeting small flock owners, those with fewer than 100 birds.
From the regulatory actions required for containment of a flock, from diagnostics to the grisly chore of depopulating, the goal is to eradicate “the fuel” to get rid of the virus.
“It hits small flocks particularly hard,” Bowes said. “The message we are trying to get out there is that we care about these small flock owners, and we know that detection is traumatic. It’s awful.”
It’s estimated there are 5,000 to 10,000 birds in small flocks in the Fraser Valley alone.
“Small-flock owners are not in mainstream commercial livestock production, which is a regulated market,” Bowes said.
Once a poultry flock hits 100 they need a permit, and mandatory biosecurity, for example.
Ag ministry officials recognize the small flock owners as an independent sector, and it was one that was “left out” of the provincial response of poultry producers in the first avian influenza outbreak. The smaller flock owners aren’t part of the commercial infrastructure.
“We want to empower them with knowledge,” Bowes said. “We want to let them know we are there to support them, and share some little pieces of biosecurity that can make all the difference.”
What’s an example of a small action that can be taken on the biosecurity front?
“Having a pair of dedicated footwear outside the coop,” Bowes replied, “or not having people come into the coop by putting up signs that say, ‘Stop here.’”
Participants who power through the three-hour info session will get a take-home sheet with online resources, and a bucket full of stuff they’re calling ‘a biosecurity kit.’
Attendees will receive a free biosecurity kit, a bucket with tools like disinfectant and information on best practices.
Although there is no cost for poultry owners, organizers say seating is limited and registration is required.
The Chilliwack session runs Nov. 1, 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Yarrow Community Hall at 4670 Community Street. Other sessions in the Fraser Valley are set for Langley on Nov. 2 and Maple Ridge on Nov. 3.
Register at Eventbrite.ca under Avian Influenza Information Session.
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