Omaha, Nebraska-The epidemic of bird flu, deadly to poultry, raises the dreaded question of how farms can quickly kill and dispose of millions of chickens and turkeys.
With more than 24 million poultry killed in the last two months and reported outbreaks almost daily, farms across the country are increasingly facing chores. Some farms have to kill more than 5 million chickens in one place with the aim of destroying birds within 24 hours to limit the spread of the disease and prevent animal distress. did.
“The better we can get to the scene early and reduce the population of birds that stay on the premises,” said Beth Thompson, a Minnesota veterinarian.
The outbreak is the largest since 2015, when producers had to kill more than 50 million birds. So far this year, incidents have occurred in 24 states, with Iowa being the hardest hit and killing about 13 million chickens and turkeys. Other states with large outbreaks include Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Indiana.
Farms facing the need to kill so many birds rely on the recommendations of the American Veterinary Association. Even if they develop a way to kill poultry quickly, the association acknowledges that the technology “may not guarantee that the deaths faced by animals are painless and painless.” Veterinarians and USDA staff also usually oversee the process.
One preferred method is to spray the bird with a water-based fire extinguishing foam as the bird roams the ground in the barn. The bubbles kill the animals by blocking their air supply.
If the bird is in a cage on the ground or the foam does not work because it is too cold, USDA recommends sealing the barn and plumbing carbon dioxide inside. First make the bird unconscious and finally kill it.
If one of these methods does not work due to lack of equipment or workers, or if the size of the herd is too large, the association stated that the last resort is a technique called ventilation arrest. In that scenario, the farmer stops the flow of air into the barn and raises the temperature to a level where the animal dies. USDA and the Veterinary Association recommend that farmers add additional heat or carbon dioxide to their barns to speed up the process and limit animal distress.
Mike Stepien, a spokesman for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said this technique is the best option if you need to kill so many birds quickly.
Not everyone agrees.
Animal welfare groups claim that all these methods for quickly killing birds are inhumane, but they are particularly opposed to stopping ventilation. Last year, animal rights groups filed a petition signed by 3,577 animal care workers (including about 1,600 veterinarians), urging the Veterinary Association to stop recommending optional ventilation suspension.
“We have to do better,” said Sarah Shields, director of livestock welfare science at Humane Society International.
Opponents of standard technology said that fire extinguishing foam uses harmful chemicals, which essentially drown birds, causing cramps and cardiac arrest when chickens and turkeys die. They say that carbon dioxide is painful for birds to inhale and can be detected by birds, encouraging them to try to escape the gas.
Karen Davis of the nonprofit United Poultry Concerns has called on the Veterinary Association to stop recommending all three major options.
“They were all the way I didn’t choose to die, and no matter what species they belonged to, I didn’t choose to die someone else,” Davis said.
Shield said there are more humane alternatives, such as using nitrogen gas, but those options tend to be more expensive and can pose logistic challenges.
Sam Krouse, vice president of Indiana-based MPS Egg Farms, said farmers are distressed at using either option.
“We devote our lives and livelihoods to caring for those birds, and it’s just catastrophic when we lose one of those birds,” Krouse said. “Everything we do every day focuses on preventing illness and keeping chickens as safe as possible.”
When a poultry dies, the farmer must dispose of the bird immediately. Crew members usually stack birds in huge rows in barns and crush them into corn stalks, as they usually do not want to risk the spread of the virus by transporting the carcasses to landfills. Create a pile of compost in combination with other materials such as sawdust.
After a few weeks of decomposition, the carcasses are converted into materials that can be spread on the farmland to help fertilize the crop. In some cases, corpses are buried in farm trenches or incinerated.
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