‘It’s so contagious’: Spread of avian flu to Alberta has Island farmers worried

'It's so contagious': Spread of avian flu to Alberta has Island farmers worried

Checking in on her newly hatched chicks on Monday, Shandelle Mathusz, carefully peeled back egg shell from a tiny one struggling to free itself.

Her Heritage Breed chicks, are ordered months ahead of time, but are hatching into a scary time for poultry and egg producers this year, as some are concerned the avian flu that’s already swept across farms in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, may be coming to B.C.

“Birds can give flu just by flying by with their dander so it’s really important that you keep your flock safe, you know biosecurity, anybody who comes to my farm has to step in bleach,” said Shandelle Mathusz, owner of Millennial Acres Chickens in Cowichan Bay.

Hers is one of hundreds of B.C. poultry farms now walking on eggshells, as the highly contagious avian flu decimates flocks out east.

“It’s so scary because it’s so contagious and so heavily impacts these birds,” said Mark Siemens, president of the BC Egg Producers’ Association and operations manager at Siemens Farms in the Fraser Valley.

According to the BC Egg Producers’ Association, B.C. egg and poultry farms have now entered a code red of biosecurity measures, as avian flu spreads to farms as close as Alberta now.

“We’re now locking down the entire property, disinfecting any vehicles bringing feed or to take product out, doing thorough washes and just really trying to monitor everything,” said Siemens.

Avian flu first hit B.C.’s massive poultry industry hard in 2004, and returned in 2008 and 2012. Officials worry how farmers will handle this latest blow that threatens to kill all their birds if even a single one in their flock should catch it.

“We’re dealing with an industry that went through the heat dome last summer and the stress of that challenge, into floods in the fall and now the anxiety of an avian flu challenge. The toll emotionally and mentally on these producers is very serious,” said Siemens.

So Mathusz will do all she can to protect her flock and the hundreds of chicks that will be hatching from it in the coming days.

With generations of specialty bloodlines and her livelihood depending on their survival.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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