Ducks Increasing in Popularity for Small-Scale Farmers


Pennsylvania is quarantining 207 poultry flocks in eastern Lancaster County and western Chester County that supply live bird markets.

A wave of farms in the live market system have tested positive for avian influenza in recent weeks, and others have tried to manage sick birds on the farm without reporting them to the state, State Veterinarian Kevin Brightbill told industry members March 15.

“That is the kind of misguided thinking that can result in, frankly, a massive outbreak in Lancaster County and loss of all of our flocks,” he said.

All farms in the quarantine zone that produce for live bird markets must allow testers to access their birds. Only state or federal animal health officials, veterinarians and certified poultry technicians are allowed to collect samples. The farms’ in-house samplers are forbidden from taking the samples themselves.

All covered flocks will be tested twice weekly to start. The quarantine provides for them to be tested every three to seven days, Brightbill said.

No live or dead birds, eggs, vehicles or equipment can go on or off a quarantined farm without testing. Poultry litter may not be spread or buried on these farms.

Farmers must also immediately disclose any previously unreported disease or depopulations, increases in mortality or clinical signs of avian influenza in their flocks.

All poultry on quarantined farms must be housed indoors, and domestic waterfowl must be kept separate from other poultry by at least 30 feet. Workers must wear dedicated clothing and footwear when caring for birds in these separate groups.

The quarantine will remain in place until infected sites have gone through depopulation and initial cleanup, and at least 14 days have passed without additional detections.

Everyone in the live bird market supply chain, including livestock market and live bird market owners, distributors, and haulers, is required to report clinical signs of avian influenza and attempted unpermitted movements or sales from quarantined flocks.

The order applies only to farms that supply the live bird market system. It does not apply to conventional commercial farms.

The quarantine covers townships that are part of control areas for farms that have already tested positive. The quarantine will be released as a unit, so even if control areas are lifted around individual farms, none of the farms in the live bird market system will be able to become complacent, Brightbill said.

Brightbill is looking to avoid a repeat of the state’s last highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak in 1983-84, when 17 million birds were lost and the disease quickly spread to 400 farms.

In the past few days, Brightbill said at least five farm owners have told him they had been dealing with sick birds for the past month but hadn’t mentioned this to the state. Farmers have been trying to control the disease by culling sick birds and not moving birds off the farm, but Brightbill said that's not enough.

The current virulent strain of avian influenza is adapted to waterfowl. Domestic ducks that have apparently recovered can still shed virus that infects other birds, and not all ducks will survive anyway, Brightbill said. The U.S. requires all flocks infected with avian influenza to be killed to prevent the disease from spreading.

Between Friday and Monday, in the days leading up to the quarantine announcement, the Ag Department served five search warrants to gain access to farms for testing.

“We need to go to the next level in Pennsylvania. And I know this is not going to be popular, but we need to,” Brightbill said.

The Lancaster County townships affected are Brecknock, Caernarvon, Clay, Colerain, Earl, East Earl, East Cocalico, Ephrata, Little Britain, Salisbury, Upper Leacock, West Cocalico and West Earl.

The Chester County townships covered are East Nottingham, Honeybrook, Lower Oxford, Upper Oxford, West Fallowfield, West Nantmeal and West Nottingham.

In February the Ag Department ordered Pennsylvania's 12 live bird markets to sell down and clean their facilities after Pennsylvania birds tested positive at a live market in Virginia. But cases have continue to spiral on farms in Lancaster and Chester counties, making Pennsylvania the state most affected by avian influenza over the past month.

Six farms totaling almost 17,000 birds have tested positive in the past week alone, according to USDA. Most were duck flocks in Brecknock Township, according to the state Ag Department.

To report sick birds in Pennsylvania, call 717-772-2852 and press option 1.