Bird flu cases again on the rise in Colorado, with new cases in Mesa, Weld counties

Routt County reported a case of the virus in April

Hayden Fresh Farm, which keeps 3,000 laying hens among other poultry, has kept biosecurity measures in place all summer after a case of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza was found in Routt County in April. Cases across Colorado are again on the rise.
Colby Townsend/Courtesy photo

Cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza — a disease that can wipe out an entire flock of birds in just three days — are once again on the rise in Colorado. 

The National Veterinary Service Laboratory confirmed new cases of the bird flu at the end of September, including at an egg laying facility in Weld County with more than 1.1 million chickens.

On Sept. 29, another 35 birds in a backyard flock in Mesa County also tested positive and other cases have been confirmed in a red-tailed hawk in Larimer County and a blue-winged teal duck in Broomfield County.

These were the latest in the more than 4.7 million birds that have been impacted by the bird flu in Colorado this year, the third most cases of any state.

Most of those cases, including one in a Canada goose in Routt County, were reported this spring. The presence of the illness led to poultry being excluded at this year’s Routt County Fair.

At Hayden Fresh Farm, the only commercial poultry operation in Routt County, has about 3,000 laying hens, 1,000 chickens raised for meat and another 150 turkeys. Co-owner Colby Townsend said the farm had precautions to prevent the spread of the virus in place all summer long.

“We stopped all of our farm tours and we do have a policy where employees will change boots to go into the big barn with the layers,” Townsend said. “Because we do free range all our birds, we are at the mercy of whatever migratory birds fly over, so it’s very hard to protect against that.”

The virus is fatal in domestic poultry and wild birds generally serve as carriers to spread the disease, according to the Colorado State Veterinarian’s Office. Because of this, state officials are saying precautions added this spring are still important, and keeping wild birds away from domestic flocks is crucial.

“It’s critical that Colorado’s backyard and commercial poultry keep up the biosecurity measures they have been implementing since the beginning of this outbreak,” said state veterinarian Dr. Maggie Baldwin, in a news release. “The most important thing bird owners can do right now is limit interaction between their flocks and wild birds.”

Townsend said that is pretty much impossible for him to do, as even geese flying overhead can spread the virus to his flock through their feces. He was less concerned over the summer, as cases subsided across the state amid drier weather.

“We’re starting to be concerned again and taking those precautions more seriously,” Townsend said. “All it takes is one bird to poop in their pen. If a duck flies over and poops in their pen, it could be the beginning of the end for me.”

Still, there are far fewer cases than there were this spring, and hopefully it stays that way, Townsend said.

Todd Hagenbuch, director and agricultural agent at Routt County’s Colorado State University Extension Office, said colder weather should help slow the spread for two reasons.

When it is colder, chickens and other poultry spend more time in the coop, limiting exposure to wild birds, Hagenbuch said. As the weather turns towards winter, the flow of migratory birds passing through the Yampa Valley also diminishes.

But not all wild birds leave the Yampa Valley in the winter, and Hagenbuch said bird feeders can be an area where birds can congregate and spread the flu.

“I would not have bird feeders out while there is migration happening for sure because that’s when you’ve got these flocks from other areas that are going to come in as well,” Hagenbuch said. “It’s just like the pandemic. … we all put our masks on (when traveling). Birds can’t do that, so we just keep them from mixing.”

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