Avian influenza was to blame for the death of a backyard flock of chickens in the Cowichan Valley but it was a low-pathogenic strain, not the dangerous and highly pathogenic one the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is closely tracking.
Amanda Brittain, spokesperson for the BC Poultry Association said the strain of the illness the Cowichan birds had isn’t required to be reported to the CFIA and thus far Vancouver Island has managed to avoid the highly transmissible strain.
“Fingers crossed it stays that way,” she said. “I know a lot of people on Vancouver Island have small flocks and backyard flocks and the best thing they can do is to keep their birds inside — inside the barn, inside the coop — because the disease is spread by migratory birds. If there’s no direct contact between your birds and migratory birds, there’s less chance your birds are going to get sick.”
Along with being spread by migratory birds, the illness can also be spread via fecal matter, which is why it’s important for flock owners to make sure to their footwear is clean before and after caring for their birds.
If precautions aren’t taken, birds may show symptoms.
“For egg laying birds, you’ll see drop in egg production. And any bird will eat and drink less, like we do when we’re not feeling well. And the birds may show odd behaviour, and any bird owner is going to be able to identity what’s odd for their flock,” Brittain explained.
Those who suspect their birds have avian influenza are to contact their veterinarian or their nearest CFIA animal health office.
Despite what appears to be a growing concern across the country, it hasn’t impacted B.C.’s poultry supplies.
“At this point we’re not concerned with any issues with the supply of chicken, turkey or eggs,” Brittain noted. “We have put programs in place to prepare us to produce more eggs if necessary and we can always import products from other provinces if it comes down to it.”
Currently, the CFIA lists 35 cases of the highly pathogenic avian influenza strain on its investigations list, impacting 717,1000 birds across the country. That includes two cases in B.C.: a small flock in the City of Kelowna and a commercial farm in the North Okanagan Regional District.
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The CFIA “strongly recommends” preventing contact between flocks and wild birds, and not sharing live birds, eggs, or other bird products with neighbours friends or family.
On April 20, in response to a confirmed outbreak of avian influenza at an Okanagan farm, Minister of Agriculture and Food Lana Popham said “enhanced prevention and preparedness measures are being taken to protect poultry flocks in B.C.”
“All poultry producers, including backyard poultry owners, are advised to increase their biosecurity practices and to be vigilant and monitor for signs of avian influenza in their flocks,” said Popham’s statement. “To further protect farmers and prevent the spread of avian influenza in B.C., the deputy chief veterinarian has issued an order requiring all commercial poultry flocks in the province with more than 100 birds to be moved indoors until the spring migration ends in May.”