Investigative Hold is Quarantine just with different words...
We experienced our first forced poultry quarantine in our existence. We were within a six-mile radius of an avian flu outbreak and it was not a pleasant experience. It all started one Saturday morning, with a call from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Veterinarian. We were told that a USDA and MDA pathologist would be visiting the farm on the next day to take samples of our flock. This is something we thought we would never go through. However, once it happens you just hope for the best, keep everything in check and have patience. Also, it makes you realize how vulnerable you are and need to start to develop a plan where flocks are completely separated so that you do not have total losses.
One bird with avian flu means the entire flock goes. This was a sobering thought. If we lost our flock, we would be dead in the water. One of the few moneymaking activities we do on the farm is egg production. With time to think, we started to realize that we would quickly go out of business and suffer huge monetary losses if we lost the flock. We are already on a thin margin and starting over does not seem likely. This then made us think about how we actually could survive if we did have an outbreak.
While on the phone with the Veterinarian, we learned exactly what an Investigate Hold would entail. First, no poultry could leave the farm or come onto the farm. Second, if a truck or car came to the farm before the vehicle left, their tires were prayed with a two parts per million solutions of bleach and water. We took the added precaution of stopping vehicles before they came on the farm and sprayed the tires.
This could not have come at the worst time, it was in the spring and we had peeps ordered for layers and broilers. We also had sales of peeps that had been ordered in the winter by a few of our customers. So we had peeps that would be leaving the farm.
Sunday morning arrived along with the USDA and MDA pathologist, dressed in biohazard suits and set about testing one third of our flock. The broilers were not tested because they were in their pen and not exposed. We also practice strict bio-security protocols on the farm as a routine. Because I was able to tell the Veterinarian about our bio-security protocols, we did get a waiver for our eggs. If we did not have that procedure in place, we would not have been able to take eggs off the farm until the “Hold” was lifted. That is another story.
Sunday, I helped the pathologist round up the thirty chickens and take throat cultures of the birds. As if the stress was not high enough, I looked under a trailer and spotted what seem to be a lifeless. chicken. I poked to get it to move and nothing. Honestly, there was a split second where I thought I could easily get rid of the bird without being seen. That lasted a nano-second and I knew what I had to do, I took the bird to the pathologist and showed it to them. They looked at it determined that it did not have any of the symptoms of avian flu and told me to dispose as normal.
Our "normal." is to place the chicken in the compost and tell it that it is time to nourish the soil as the soil has nourished you. It is our humane practice and acknowledgement that she has given us eggs, joy, entertainment and humility, while growing from the nutrients in the ground.
We were getting peeps on Monday and I asked about receiving them. They looked at me and said they will get back to me. Monday came and we picked up our layers and broilers. The first problem was a fifty percent mortality of the delivered layer peeps. On Wednesday, we got a call from USDA stating that we could not bring peeps onto the farm or take any off.
We have a small window of time each spring to bring in our peeps and get them to laying stage before winter sets in and they are hearty. The quarantine lasted close to two months; we lost sales and the ability to replenish our aging layers. Our flock tested negative and eventually we received a release from the quarantine, but our timing was off and we need to figure out how to integrate twenty-five layers instead of fifty.
Adding new flocks to established flocks is a delicate process and takes planning. That time is coming and we still do not have a sure integration program yet. At least not one that we both agree will work. It will come but until then the growing peeps are in a moveable pen and on grass.
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