How Vermont farmers work to protect their flocks amid avian influenza fears

Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 4:20 PM EST
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PEACHAM, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont officials continue to sound the alarm on avian influenza. They say this strain is not following typical patterns, meaning all bird owners should remain careful when handling their flocks. A farmer in Peacham showed me what he’s doing to protect his poultry.

The Goldshaw Farm was on high alert for avian influenza back in the spring. Since then, their caution has dwindled a bit, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still pay very close attention.

The minute you step onto Morgan Gold’s Peacham farm, precautions begin to protect his birds.

“Make sure you’re not carrying anything. I don’t know where you’ve been,” he laughed.

Gold runs a small chicken, duck and goose operation in the corner of the Northeast Kingdom. He can’t afford to take risks, as about 40% of his revenue is through his poultry.

“It’s not something we can fret over constantly, but we have to be watchful,” he said.

Gold knows his birds. He takes careful stock of their health daily.

For him, the threat of bird flu at this point in the year is moderate to low.

“There are the risks you can control and the risks you can’t control,” Gold said.

What he can control is his clothing, his shoes and human visitors to the farm. What he can’t control, are threats from above.

“We have really built our property to be really an ideal habitat for waterfowl, that doesn’t matter if they are domestic waterfowl like our birds or the wild type,” Gold said.

Seventy wild birds in Vermont have been found with avian flu since it was first detected here in March.

The farm’s greatest protection against wild birds on the property is two livestock guard dogs.

“They recognize when foreign birds are coming in and they will chase off a flock of Canada geese. And while it doesn’t keep me 100% covered, it does keep wild duck, for example, from nesting,” Gold said.

Wild bird-to-domestic bird contact resulted in the destruction of two farm flocks in Vermont, something the Agency of Agriculture doesn’t want to happen again.

“Keeping your birds separate from wild birds seems to be the number one thing to protect your flock,” Vermont Assistant State Vet Dr. Kaitlynn Levine said.

Levine says all infection to domestic birds has been beak-to-beak direct contact. So for her, protection means stopping interaction in common waterways, like ponds, and limiting access to poultry. This is on top of other general biosecurity practices.

“It’s about washing, it’s about having things be clean when they come in and out of an area, and it’s about not gathering where things can be spreading,” Levine explained.

Levine says good practice stops farms from losing whole flocks but also limits the spread farm to farm, something Gold is glad didn’t happen when another flock in Caledonia County was wiped out.

As for the future?

“I really see it as I need to diversify,” Gold said.

That means investing more into trees and cattle to provide a safety net for the loss of a flock if cases tick back up with the spring migration.

His long-term goal is a diverse ecosystem to bulletproof his farming venture.

“More future-proof my farm for those potential risks is how do I think about an ecosystem element that can move the birds away from here, as well,” Gold said.

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