A salmonella outbreak at an Alberta hatchery this spring has backyard farmers here worried they’ve been shipped chicken and turkey chicks infected with the disease.
To date, there have been no reported cases of illness in the Terrace area, but “one case [of salmonella poisoning] was reported and has been directly linked with live poultry in northern B.C.,” says Doug Quibell from the Northern Health Authority.
In light of the outbreak, the ministry of agriculture is providing a salmonella-testing kit free of charge as birds might be carriers of the disease without showing any symptoms. Poultry owners in Terrace are taking extra precautions and some are even quarantining their hatchery birds until the test results come back.
The salmonella outbreak affects chicks shipped between March 1 and May 5 of this year from an Alberta facility housing both the Rochester and Miller hatchery brands.
The facility in question was cleared of salmonella in early May and the root of the outbreak was traced to contaminated broiler (meat bird) eggs obtained from an outside source and which then spread to other birds, says Al Keshwani, the Rochester Hatchery owner.
Rochester and Miller Hatcheries are major suppliers to backyard farmers and Quibell explained that the Northern Health Authority received notice from the hatcheries in May that possibly infected chicks “went out to all communities in the northwest region.”
If chicks in Terrace were to test positive for salmonella, small flock owners would be responsible for eradicating the disease from their flock and this would mean a loss of revenue for farmers in Terrace who often raise poultry as a source of secondary income.
Some locals are also worried they could be affected by bad publicity even if the chicks sent to them test negative for salmonella or come from later batches.
“I’m still concerned because I’ve ordered extra [chicks] to sell down the road and – with their tainted history – I don’t want to end up with an oversized flock that no one wants to buy because they are from Rochester,” explained Jennifer Reeves, a local backyard farmer hobbyist.
So far, there have been 60 reported cases of possible salmonella poisoning across the four western provinces and one territory that are under investigation by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Nineteen people in
British Columbia have reported symptoms of salmonella after contact with live poultry, and one case has been reported in northern B.C.
The single case in this region, originating from Smithers, was reported about a month ago to health authorities.
Quibell said that health authorities advise the public to see their physicians if they show flu-like symptoms after contact with live poultry, which could be an indicator of Salmonella poisoning.
The agriculture ministry says that, although there is no requirement to cull a flock infected with salmonella, the most effective way of dealing with an outbreak is to dispose of the birds and then clean and disinfect the premises very throughly.
Salmonella can be spread from one bird to another through droppings, rodents, and even barn dust. This means that not only are the Rochester and Miller birds affected, but the contaminated birds could infect entire flocks.
Although fluff samples from chicks at the hatchery first tested positive for salmonella in early April, Al Keshwani of Rochester Hatchery explained that customers were not notified until they were able to isolate the breed responsible on May 5, when they disinfected the hatchery before resuming operations.
Rochester and Miller customers in Terrace started receiving letters from the hatcheries in late May advising them that they received “chicks that were hatched in the same time period as those implicated in the preliminary investigation [into salmonella-infected chicks originating from their hatchery].”
The letter included the advice from the agriculture ministry on how to reduce the risk of exposure to the disease and ensure that their flock has a clean bill of health.
Affected poultry includes chickens and turkeys that may show no signs of sickness.
Human illness can usually be prevented by using safe practices when handling meat and eggs, but the inside of eggs can still be contaminated as they are formed in the ovary of the hen so consumers need to “hard-cook” eggs.
The Salmonella outbreak is only the latest disease that small farmers in Terrace have to deal with. Many backyard farmers have started buying chicks locally or hatching their own to avoid bringing diseases into the north, like chicken owner Angie Healey.
“I didn’t order [from Rochester] this year out of paranoia, with the avian flu outbreak earlier this year and a friends’ experience a few years back with a different disease and having to cull her stock,” Healey said.
She is also being careful about bringing her birds to the Skeena Valley Fall Fair because of diseases, lice, and mites that birds could pick up there.