chicken poultry

Jim Hershey’s poultry barns have been empty for more than two months.

He hopes to get a new flock in July, but for now, he’s still waiting.

Hershey’s Elizabethtown farm was in the control zone for one of Lancaster County’s avian influenza outbreaks. And though the disease never reached his farm, his integrator, Coleman Natural (a Perdue Farms company), decided against placing any chicks until the control zone is lifted.

Farms in the control area are subject to bird movement and testing requirements.

If no new cases are confirmed in the area, the zone could be canceled by June 27, but he doesn’t think he will get a new flock until the first half of July.

“Our barns have been sitting empty,” he said. “We’ve been doing some updates in our poultry barns just for something to do.”

Hershey’s last flock left April 6, and new chicks were supposed to go in April 20. Before that could happen, Lancaster County was hit with its first avian influenza case since the 1980s.

Kreider Farms in East Donegal Township was the first farm in the state to test positive, confirmed by USDA on April 15.

That outbreak placed Hershey in the surveillance zone, so Coleman decided to not place the birds scheduled for April 20.

Two more Lancaster County farms in closer proximity to Hershey Farms tested positive on April 21, which landed Hershey’s farm in the control area.

Though the quarantine orders for control areas do not prohibit new bird placements, companies that choose to put new flocks in the control zone are responsible for any losses and for the cleanup process if there is an outbreak at one of their farms. USDA indemnity money would not be available to them.

Hershey said he knows of two other nearby farms that work with Perdue and have missed flocks due to the control zone, but he believes other integrators have decided to continue placing flocks.

“Perdue has taken the position not to take the risk of placing chicks before that quarantine is lifted,” he said.

So Hershey and other farmers in the control zone are stuck in a waiting period.

“There’s not much you can do at this point in time,” said Chris Herr, executive vice president of PennAg Industries. “The integrators are reluctant to take the gamble.”

But missing a flock means missing out on income.

“We count on a certain amount of cash flow each month,” Hershey said. “For us now, we’ve missed a whole flock, which is significant dollars.”

Hershey has two full-time workers that he’s decided to keep employed despite the missed income.

“They’re very good, dependable employees, and we don’t want to lay them off,” he said.

Luckily, Hershey also has a hog operation that has helped maintain a revenue stream and keep his workers employed.

Herr said that situation demonstrates the importance of having a diversified farm operation.

Lawmakers are looking to provide avian influenza recovery funding in the state budget, due June 30, including for farms with missed flocks.

“We’re looking at $25 million,” Herr said. “That should be sufficient to be able to cover everybody, whether they’ve actually had avian influenza or were just impacted by the control zones.”

Hershey said there’s also been some talk of getting funds from his integrator, but he has yet to see any.

Right now, he’s just looking forward to getting birds back in his barns, and is thankful that the outbreak wasn’t worse.

“To hold it to eight farms in Lancaster County is just phenomenal,” Hershey said.

Pennsylvania had 17 infected commercial flocks, all in Lancaster and Berks counties, with 4.2 million birds affected. There has not been a confirmed case in the state since June 2.

“Kudos to the (Pennsylvania) Department of Ag and USDA and all the officials that managed this whole avian influenza,” Hershey said. “Hats off to producers, too, because producers did over and beyond biosecurity measures in order to protect their own flock.”

Herr echoed Hershey’s praise, saying how refreshing it is to have the state government actively working to help affected farmers.

“I think we’re in a very, very unique situation, and likely will be the envy of an awful lot of other parts of the country that have experienced losses from avian influenza,” Herr said. “I can’t emphasize enough the support that we are getting from the administration and from our elected officials to recognize the problem and address it.”


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