Avian flu outbreaks in B.C. and Alberta causing concern in Yukon

·4 min read
Recent avian flu outbreaks in B.C. and Alberta chickens are putting Yukon flocks at risk, according to experts. The flu is spread by migratory birds. A government veterinarian offers tips to keep poultry safe. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC  - image credit)
Recent avian flu outbreaks in B.C. and Alberta chickens are putting Yukon flocks at risk, according to experts. The flu is spread by migratory birds. A government veterinarian offers tips to keep poultry safe. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC - image credit)

Recent avian flu outbreaks on poultry farms in B.C. and Alberta are causing concern in the Yukon.

"A lot of Yukoners get their chicks delivered from those two areas," said Sonny Gray, a farmer and consultant who is past president of the Yukon Agricultural Association.

He said there are only three or four farmers that have more than 1,000 birds but there are many Yukoners who also have coops in their yards.

"Everybody needs to take precautions," he said.

While no case of avian flu has been reported in the territory yet, the acting program veterinarian with the government of Yukon's animal health unit said it's possible the avian flu will spread there as spring migration takes place.

"Avian influenza is carried primarily and spread primarily by wild birds," said Kristenn Magnusson.

Precautions

Last week, the Tr'ondek Hwech'in Farm in Dawson City issued a notice to its customers that it was no longer going to allow them inside its chicken coops.

The farm had just brought in a new flock of healthy chickens from B.C. and said it was taking the measure to keep the birds safe.

It also asked its customers who raise poultry to wear clean footwear and clothing when they come to the farm.

Those are two of several measures farms and people can take to keep their poultry safe, said Magnusson.

"[Keep] birds in secure enclosures, ideally with a roof where wild birds would not be able to enter the domestic poultry containment, and try to minimize any contact that could be shared between domestic and wild birds," said Magnusson.

She added the avian flu can also be spread by a bird touching a contaminated surface, such as a food dish, equipment, clothing or boots.

"It's advised that folks, you know, wash their hands, change their boots and clothes before they enter into their chicken coop or their commercial poultry operation to minimize the chance that they're actually bringing in the virus," she said.

The outbreaks in B.C. and Alberta have also had an impact on the availability of eggs for certain breeds of chicken, according to Megan Bradley, purchaser at the Feed Store in Whitehorse.

She said the store, which typically sells about 3,000 to 5,000 chicks a year between early May and mid-June, is extending the selling season until the end of June.

Symptoms

Magnusson said avian flu symptoms present differently in wild and domestic birds.

She said wild birds may have difficulty moving and flying, as well as breathing, sometimes coughing and sneezing.

In domestic birds, it's a different story.

"We might be able to notice things like a drop in food consumption, a drop in egg production, diarrhea, excessive thirst and fairly high mortality in poultry, including fairly rapid onset of sudden death," she said.

She said the Yukon has many avid bird watchers and advises them that if they see an injured or dead bird, they should leave the birds alone and call the government's tip line at 1-800-661-0525.

She also said that because of the outbreak, the government is suggesting people not feed wild birds because that can increase the probability of transmitting the flu among wild birds and then to domestic ones.

If people have a bird feeder in their backyard, she recommends cleaning it — but if they have domestic poultry in their backyard too, they should remove the feeder.

Self-sufficient

Gray said the outbreaks highlight the fact that the Yukon needs to focus more on breeding and hatching its own birds rather than importing them from the south.

"I'll be hatching my own eggs here locally so it'll eliminate any potential chance of the disease being imported from down south," he said.

Wayne Vallevand/CBC
Wayne Vallevand/CBC

He added that every time the Yukon imports some agricultural products from the south, it runs the risk of introducing diseases that aren't in the territory.

He said anybody can hatch their own eggs but it does get more complicated in bigger operations.

"But if you had enough egg farmers here in the territory and they were to work together to create a facility for hatching, I think it's absolutely feasible in the next couple of years," he said.

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