Avian Influenza Thoughts

Driving to a meeting this morning I started thinking about the impact of the on-going avian influenza outbreak in the Midwest. Unlike the PEDv introduction into the US swine industry, avian influenza results in euthanasia of all of the birds at a site. With PEDv we had death loss, but the vast majority of the sows survived an outbreak and producers were able to wean pigs in 3-4 weeks.

The outbreak in laying hens in Dixon County Nebraska is in facilities that I could see from my office while I was at the University of Nebraska. Thus I am familiar not only with the production facilities but also the surrounding community of employees and their families.

When PEDv ravaged our industry in the winter of 2013-14 many of us witnessed the impact on employees when they were unable to save any of the newly born piglets for up to 3 weeks. However, no employees were laid off and employees could look forward to a return to production after very hard labors involved in cleaning up a facility.

On the other hand, the outlook isn’t as good for employees associated with the egg laying flocks being hit by the avian influenza outbreak. In the Nebraska outbreak there are over 3 million birds identified for euthanasia. This is over 2.5 million eggs per day.

It is no simple task to replace these 3 million hens. Where do the fertile eggs come from to hatch the replacement poults when many of the breeder flocks are located in high risk regions, where do they grow/develop the replacement hens, etc.??? I’ve heard discussion of affected sites talking about needing upwards of 2 years to return to current productivity. In addition to identifying and getting replacement poults, the age distribution at production sites (think parity distribution in a sow unit) is a limit to the return to productivity.

In the town of Wakefield, the egg processing plant is the largest employer in the community. With a production loss this large, layoffs will occur, with the time line for return to employment very uncertain. I can’t help but think about the impact on the community and the many companies who provide services to the production facility and the egg processing plant. Relative to avian influenza, PEDv doesn’t sound so bad all of a sudden. Still bad, but avian influenza puts our health challenges in perspective.

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