Bird flu strikes Renville County

WILLMAR -- A large chicken egg-laying facility in Renville County and another turkey farm in Meeker County are the latest cases of avian influenza to be reported in Minnesota.

Avian influenza recently reached an egg-laying facility in Renville County, affecting about 2,000 chickens. (SUBMITTED/Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota and Minnesota Board of Animal Health)

WILLMAR - A large chicken egg-laying facility in Renville County and another turkey farm in Meeker County are the latest cases of avian influenza to be reported in Minnesota.
The Renville County complex reportedly involves a “couple million” chickens, according to Dr. Dale Lauer, who supervises the Board of Animal Health poultry testing laboratory in Willmar.
“Is this significant? Yes,” Lauer said Thursday.
There are now 87 sites in 21 Minnesota counties where the H5N2 avian influenza virus has been detected.
So far, the disease has affected 5.7 million birds in Minnesota. The number, however, does not include the latest cases from the two sites reported Thursday.
The official number of poultry from those sites will likely be reported later this week or early next week, but Lauer said the number from the Renville County farm involved a couple million chickens.
Because of the deadly nature of the virus, Lauer said when one barn on a farm site tests positive, then all the birds on the premises are classified as infected, which is why the number of chickens from the Renville County facility is so high.
In spite of new sites being identified and the large number of birds affected in the latest testing, Lauer said many tests come back negative and the total number of cases being reported each week has decreased since the peak of the outbreak about three weeks ago.
“From our peak we have dropped so that the number of positive premises has decreased,” he said. “We’ve entered a different phase now of trying to get these businesses back going again.”
That process takes time and resources.
“The back end of the event is making sure you’ve got places cleaned up, ensuring the virus is gone - to the best of our ability. And of course, with that, there’s some additional down time,” he said.
Birds that died from the disease, or were euthanized to prevent the spread of the virus, are composted inside the barns.
That step takes about 30 days and is followed by extensive cleaning and disinfecting that takes about a week.
After the barns are tested to ensure “to the best of our ability” that they are disease-free, the barns must sit empty for another 21 days, Lauer said.
The entire process, starting from when the virus is detected until new poults or chicks are brought in, takes about three months, he said.
“There have certainly been more bad days than good days and certainly depressing days for people, especially when some of these reports come out,” Lauer said.
But he said, for the most part, producers are “hanging in there” and trying to regroup from the losses.
“There’s nobody I talked to that’s saying, ‘let’s throw in the towel,’” he said.
Instead there’s an attitude of “we are going to continue to battle this as best we can.”
Reuters reported Thursday that the USDA has confirmed avian flu in 16 states. Because the virus has been spreading to other states, including Iowa and Nebraska, some of the U.S. Department of Agriculture support staff has left Minnesota to help producers in other areas.
That has meant relying more on state resources, Lauer said.
The never-ending testing process has not slowed down and Lauer said there’s “not much sleep for some of us in the trenches. But we’ll persevere. We’ll get through this.”
He said people are working together to respond to the disease and restore the state’s poultry industry.
“We’ve got producers out there, we've got an economy, we've got a community we need to keep going,” Lauer said.


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Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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