Deadly Disease Threatens Virginia Birds

By: Erin Tate
By: Erin Tate

"It's the hoof and mouth disease of poultry. In other words, it's deadly," explains John Koontz of Koontz Family Farms in Mount Jackson.

A new breed of bird disease has poultry producers on pins and needles. Exotic Newcastle Disease is even more lethal than the Avian Influenza that infected 4.7 million of the Commonwealth's turkeys and chickens last year.

That flu swept through 200 Virginia farms and cost the industry $130 million. Now, poultry growers say they can't afford another flock-devastating disease.

Hobey Bauhan, President of the Virginia Poultry Federation says, "We're already practicing strict bio-security around here but we just need to be vigilant."

Exotic Newcastle Disease has only been detected in California and Nevada, but it's highly contagious and Valley farmers fear the worst.

The disease poses an 80 percent chance of mortality, starting with symptoms like coughing, sneezing, walking In circles, showing signs of paralysis and decreased egg production.

It was first found among gaming birds and Koontz knows locally, that cock-fighting, although illegal, is common.

"Some of the counties around here have a lot of game birds and fighting chickens so it's quite a threat to us and to the poultry business as a whole," he says.

Bauhan says he hopes the disease will be controlled and eradicated on the West Coast.

"But we need to do everything possible to avoid it and that means bio-security, bio-security, bio-security," he says.

Koontz keeps a healthy farm by regularly disinfecting truck tires, boots, clothes and equipment. Such precautions saved his 84 thousand birds from the Avian flu.

He just hopes they'll save his flocks from Exotic Newcastle Disease, too.

The disease affects all birds, from commercial poultry to your pets at home.

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