Avian Bird Flu Helping Small Local Farm

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Culture Staff Writer | Laura Frey | lf585911@ohio.edu

Egg prices have been on the rise in recent months due to a virus that has caused chicken famers to kill over 48 million chickens, according to US Department of Agriculture. Chicken farms that have been hit the hardest have been large poultry farms that have more than 10,000 chickens. Small, local chicken farmers have been lucky enough to escape the flu, and are benefitting from the large poultry farms losses.

High Bottom Farm is growing more successful due to the avian flu. Source: Laura Frey
The avian bird flu has not affected High Bottom Farm, due to their smaller operation and allowing their chickens to have free-range and clean living environments. Source: Laura Frey

Jeff Bruck, owner and operator of High Bottom Farm near Guysville, Ohio, has been in the chicken farming business for 15 years. “I started on a small scale with 25 chicks that I ordered and they were delivered through the mail,” said Bruck. From those humble beginnings, Bruck and his wife, Linda, expanded their farm to include more than 200 free-range, fresh pasture, hormone- and antibiotic-free hens. As their slogan states, “Healthy Hens Lay Better Tasting Eggs!” And local customers seem to agree. However, High Bottom Farm is one of the lucky ones.

Unlike so many others, the avian bird flu has not affected Bruck’s farm, due to their smaller operation and allowing their chickens to have free-range and clean living environments. “We don’t overcrowd our chicken coops,” said Bruck. Overcrowding chickens into one large facility has been the main reason for the spread of the bird flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, avian influenza refers to infection of birds with the Type A virus. The virus occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird species. Infected birds spread the virus via saliva, nasal secretions and feces. Fecal-to-oral transmission is the most common mode of spread between birds.

The specific virus affecting the hens is called “H5,” according to the CDC. The virus is spread when infected birds come into contact with healthy birds or when healthy birds come into contact with surfaces that are contaminated with the virus.

Dr. Jack Shere, associate deputy administrator at the United States Department of Agriculture, said that the virus does not spread easily, but in some areas, the close proximity does allow the disease to spread to affect more turkey houses.

“I was in Minnesota for example, and because of the close proximity some of these facilities are to lakes and large population of wild water fowl, the winds have been pretty high in places there,” Shere said. “These winds carry the virus moving it into those houses.”

The CDC found evidence of the bird flu in 21 states between December and mid-June. Fifteen of the affected states had outbreaks in domestic poultry or captive birds, while six states saw outbreaks in wild birds only.

“The bird flu has depopulated 10 percent of free-range birds,” said Bruck, “But I haven’t lost any birds.”

Bruck, who sells his eggs to local restaurants and grocery stores, has seen an increase in the distribution of his product. The Ohio University Inn, which features High Bottom Farm eggs on its breakfast menu, has been purchasing more eggs from Bruck than before. “[The} OU Inn used to buy only one case a week [15 dozen eggs], but recently they have been purchasing more and more cases,” said Bruck.

eggs
Source: Laura Frey

J. Seaman, owner of Seaman’s Cardinal Super Market, has been seeing a change in High Bottom Farm egg sales over the past couple of years. “People buy High Bottom Farm eggs because it is the better egg, and now because of the bird flu, people are turning to them more and more,” said Seaman. The owner has noticed that commercially farmed egg prices have gone up. “Commercially farmed egg prices are still less expensive than free-range, but people are willing to pay more for free-range, because they are more reliable and better for you,” he says.

Ernie Norris, Kroger manger, said, “Commercial eggs and free-range eggs have become pretty competitive in price.” Prices for High Bottom Farm eggs are $4.50 for a dozen eggs, and for a dozen of store brand eggs is around $3.19.

Gregory and Geraldine Howard, of Gibson Ridge Farm located near Albany, Ohio, are currently raising 75 chickens and have not lost any due to the bird flu. “When you stack 10,000 chickens together in one big house, they are going to get sick,” says Geraldine. “Chickens get sick just like people do, and they need space to roam so that they aren’t on top of one another,” she says.

According to the USDA, there seems to be some hope for the egg market despite the rapid spreading of the avian flu virus. Although in August a dozen large eggs cost $3.61, more than $2 up from the previous year. As of recently, prices appear to be on a downward trend. The USDA reported on Sept. 21 that Regional and California prices are four to 24 cents lower on a dozen large eggs.

Although prices are improving now, Bruck is unsure of what will happen once the season starts back up. “Once the commercial farms are able to resupply their stock, it will be interesting to see what happens,” said Bruck. Consumers and farmers alike are waiting to see how the avian bird flu will affect this upcoming season.

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