Foster Farms is making progress after having to kill 60,000 chickens at its Montrose County plant because of an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in April.
The commercial poultry farm remains under quarantine; however, surrounding areas in Montrose and Delta counties were released from quarantine restrictions May 27 and backyard flocks can be moved without special permissions, Colorado Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Olga Robak said.
Foster Farms remains in biohazard mitigation phase. The entire premises have been cleaned, but the business cannot repopulate its flock yet. The CDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture could consider giving Foster Farms the green light after 150 days have passed since the outbreak, which was detected on about April 15.
The state announced on April 20 an outbreak of H5N1 avian flu at a commercial broiler facility in Montrose County. The state does not identify specific facilities, however, Foster Farms vice president of communications confirmed the business experienced an outbreak, despite strong biosecurity measures.
The quarantine prohibited moving birds, eggs, hatching or embryonated eggs, manure, feed, bodies, feathers and poultry equipment off-property.
Robak said those restrictions remain in place at the facility, although they were lifted for the rest of the quarantine area.
The state and USDA initially sent a team and established an incident management team for Foster Farms. The CDA still has a few people working with the facility, Robak said.
“Everything at this point is going according to plan. There have been no other detections from that facility,” she said.
The outbreak and restrictions followed detections of H5N1 in wild fowl elsewhere in the state.
Since that time, several other domestic flocks were hit with the highly lethal and contagious virus, leading to more than 3 million poultry being euthanized across the state.
Additionally, one case of influenza AH5 was detected in a Delta prison inmate who had apparently worked at Foster Farms; the virus was present in a single nasal specimen; however, it was not clear to the state whether it had actually caused an infection.
People generally have a low risk of H5 flu viruses because these spread among birds and do not ordinarily affect humans.
Weld County commercial poultry operations are the hardest hit, with 1.36 million birds lost at a commercial table egg layer business in April, followed by another 1.8 million at a commercial egg layer facility on June 7 and, on June 8, in a 200,000-strong commercial pullet flock.
After these, Foster Farm’s 60,000-bird loss has been the biggest.
Other detections as of June 9 were relatively small: 36 in Pitkin County; 38 in La Plata County and 10 in Jefferson County; all of these outbreaks affected backyard flocks.
“It is definitely still an active threat,” Robak said. “We are still advising folks to keep it in mind and continue their biosecurity measures.”
The avian flu outbreaks also prompted the Montrose County Fair Board to cancel poultry competitions for the county fair this year, out of an abundance of caution and following an initial 90-day freeze on poultry shows and exchanges under a state emergency rule.
On June 7, the state announced a May 25 decision by the Colorado State Fair Board Authority to cancel poultry shows for the state fair because of avian flu nationwide.
“For the safety of both humans and animals participating in the Colorado State Fair, the Board of Authority has voted to follow the guidance of the Colorado State Veterinarian and not hold any poultry events where commingling of birds could occur,” said Rene Brown, chair of the Colorado State Fair Board of Authority, in the state’s announcement.
“This was a very difficult decision, since we know kids look forward to raising and showing their chickens and turkeys, but as cases of avian influenza continue to rise across the country, we first and foremost want to assure the safety of everyone who attends and enjoys the Colorado State Fair.”
The avian flu outbreak has taken a toll on producers large and small, who are obviously worried about their flocks.
“It’s been really tough on the folks who have had to deal with it,” Robak said, stressing that supportive services are available for producers struggling with with anxiety over the situation.
Colorado Crisis Services can be reached at 1-844-494-TALK (8255) or by texting TALK to 38255.
Under a program set up through the Colorado Farm Bureau, farmers and ranchers can receive a voucher for six free sessions with a provider who is well informed about agriculture, via the Colorado Agricultural Addiction and Mental Health Program; visit campforhealth.com.
The CDA provides regular updates on the situation at ag.colorado.gov/hpai. Updated situation reports are usually released each Friday.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.