Peggy Ife spent her Friday afternoon trying to figure out how to dispose of the carcasses of the last members of her poultry flock after a deadly avian flu strain was confirmed on her farm in rural southeastern B.C.
"[I'm] devastated. Kerfuffled," she told CBC in an interview from her property near the tiny West Kootenay community of Burton.
Ife's is the third flock in B.C. to test positive for the highly infectious H5N1 virus, though the news didn't come as a surprise.
On Monday, she told Radio West host Sarah Penton that she strongly suspected avian influenza when her roster of about 70 egg layers dwindled to just a dozen within four days after an illness hit her farm. Some of the birds had been lethargic and uninterested in food, and after a bit of research, Ife determined that avian flu was the likely cause.
Her farm has now been placed under quarantine by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and more than 100 surviving birds — mostly chicks — have been euthanized.
"This really, really hurt. I went in last night and said bye to my babies," Ife said.
Officials urge measures to prevent transmission
The avian flu is sweeping across North America, and B.C. confirmed its first case on a farm in the North Okanagan earlier this month, followed by an outbreak in a small backyard poultry flock in Kelowna earlier this week.
According to a news release from the B.C. government, seven wild birds that died between April 21 and 27 have also tested positive for H5 strains of bird flu, including three snow geese and one Canada goose in the Vanderhoof area, and bald eagles in Lac la Hache, Bowen Island and Vancouver.
B.C. has ordered all commercial poultry operators with more than 100 birds to move their flocks indoors until the spring migration ends in May.
Officials have advised people with small poultry flocks to stop filling their feeders and bird baths temporarily to reduce contact between domestic animals and wild birds.
Ife, who calls her chickens "my girls," said she has always fed wild birds around her property.
"Seventeen years I've fed wild birds and the girls run free and nothing happened … It's sad," she said.
Her losses include a 14-year-old goose, an eight-year-old hen and countless birds that she said she treated like her children.
"They're very spoiled," Ife said. "When I go to buy groceries, it's funny because I'm not looking just for myself, I'm looking for my birds for anything that's on sale."
She said she'd like to see a lot more research into avian flu so that officials can develop a better idea of how it spreads.
In her case, the baby birds had been kept in a separate structure from the older animals and showed no signs of illness, so she can't help but wonder how necessary it was to wipe them out.
Despite everything, though, Ife is ready to start over.
"I'll move on. I've got some friends that are starting their incubators up for me," she said.
Avian flu cases have been confirmed in several other provinces, but no infections have been detected in humans.
The CFIA has said the illness is not considered a significant concern for healthy people who are not in regular contact with infected birds.