SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Bill MacFarlane has been anxious since a case of a deadly bird flu strain was recently confirmed in domestic poultry just 50 miles from his southern Wisconsin farm, the largest pheasant operation in North America that supplies 1.8 million birds each year to the game bird industry.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Bill MacFarlane has been anxious since a case of a deadly bird flu strain was recently confirmed in domestic poultry just 50 miles from his southern Wisconsin farm, the largest pheasant operation in North America that supplies 1.8 million birds each year to the game bird industry.
"I would say the last 10 days have been probably the most stressful days of my entire life," he said.
MacFarlane and other game bird producers have ramped up disease-prevention measures in an effort to shield their multi-billion-dollar industry from the highly-contagious avian influenza outbreak sweeping the Midwest poultry industry that has led to the death of millions of turkeys and chickens either from the virus or to stop its spread.
It's still not known how susceptible game birds are to the H5N2 strain of avian influenza. The only case of the virus in pheasants so far was in the distant state of Washington, where the flock was euthanized. Game bird producers in the Upper Midwest primarily raise pheasants but also other birds, such as partridge and chucker.
At MacFarlane Farms, feed trucks that come onto the farm have to be sprayed down with disinfectant, employees wear work-only foot gear, booties and coveralls while in barns and pens and visitors are not allowed to enter any production facilities or even to leave their vehicles.
Mike Forsgren, the owner of Forsgren's Pheasant Farm Inc., said he now meets delivery drivers at the end the driveway at his pheasant farm in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota to stop the disease from entering his operation.
"We're all doing pretty much the same thing: Everything we can," he said.
Game bird farms raise millions of pheasants to stock preserves that are flooded with sportsmen from across the country and world each fall for hunting.
The industry is important, especially in the Plains states from Texas to the Dakotas as hunters fill up hotels and spend money in small communities, said Sam Ballou, the president of the North American Game Bird Association and an Ohio preserve owner himself.
"The real big kicker is all the people traveling to and from the hunting preserve: the lodging, the fuel, the hunting clothing," he said. "It's a pretty big impact."
On pheasant operations, chicks are raised in barns like turkeys and chickens, but older birds grow up in fly pens, which are large netted aviaries where pheasants can fly around. Since the pheasants will one day be released to be hunted, they're raised to have the same characteristics as wild birds.
Ballou said his organization consults with veterinary experts often and gives its members weekly updates with the latest news and prevention tips.
"I'm not going to let my guard down at all and think in any way, shape or form that pheasants aren't susceptible," said MacFarlane, who's worked on the family farm for 36 years and employs 60 full-time workers. "I'm not trying to be negative, I'm just being realistic."