Alberta poultry farmers have now lost 900,000 birds to avian influenza

Alberta has now lost an estimated 900,000 poultry, more than double the next closest province according to numbers updated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Thursday afternoon.

The total is an increase of 300,000 since the last update a week ago.

Ontario is the next hardest hit, with an estimated 425,000 birds from 23 farms impacted.

"It's hard - it's very hard," said Jeff Notenbomer, a poultry producer outside Lethbridge.

His flock has not been impacted, but he hears just how hard it's been on 23 Alberta farms across the province, a number that will likely continue to rise.

"My heart definitely goes out to any producer who's had to euthanize their flocks, and they have to go through this long process," Notenbomer said.

"I know some farms they've been positive for you know, three four weeks ago, the birds have been euthanized two three weeks ago and they haven't started the composting process yet," he said.

EUTHANIZING THE BIRDS

Once a case is detected CFIA takes control of the property, controlling what can come and go from the farm. The federal agency then takes care of euthanizing the birds, using carbon dioxide gas, generally accepted as the most humane and efficient way of culling large flocks.

All organic material used to care for the birds is then combined with the carcasses and composted. Once that is complete, clean up begins, disinfecting barns and equipment.

It can take as long as two or three months before a farmer is able to start rebuilding their flock.

The scattered pattern of infection suggests to inspectors that wild migratory birds are still the most likely cause of outbreaks.

This year's strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza has caused concern and damage around the world. While wild birds always have some amount in the population, they've evolved over millennia to fight off infection. This year's strain however is leaving more wild birds dead. Some showing signs of neurological symptoms such as head tremors.

It's hoped the warmer weather and the end of the spring migration will lead to a drop off in cases in Alberta.