Broiler chickens in barn
Broiler growers have escaped the worst of HPAI — with the exception of export bans.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The broiler chicken industry is counting its blessings while federal and state agriculture officials respond to new cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza at turkey and egg production farms.

Turkey flocks and commercial egg operations have been hardest hit by the virus; however, broiler chickens have not been affected with the exception of export bans, noted Donnie King, president of North American operations and foodservice for Tyson Foods Inc. Speaking during a Q&A session at the Goldman Sachs Consumer Staples Conference in New York, King said he has some ideas as to why broiler producers have avoided the worst effects of the H5N2 outbreak.

“Biosecurity on a broiler farm, particularly at Tyson — that’s the one I can speak to the most — when you sanitize on and off the farm, in your vehicle, on a feed delivery vehicle, and when you go into the house you're wearing a Tyvek suit and sanitizing and disinfecting and doing all those things,” King said. “So biosecurity is critical to this.”

He added that the short life cycle of broiler chickens and lower concentration of birds benefits broilers.

“But, we are not immune from export bans as it relates to AI,” King cautioned. “For example, in Arkansas in March we had a turkey flock test AI...and the entire state of Arkansas was banned from exporting to a number of places. Now, you can still ship mechanically separated chicken, and you can still ship eggs, which is a bit of a mystery. But nevertheless, broilers were banned. A number of countries have taken action since then.”

King said the AI-related export bans drag on pricing for leg quarters. “Leg quarter pricing typically, [is] $0.35 or so a pound, and when you look at $0.17 to $0.19 a pound that we’re seeing now in some of those markets, it's a concern.”

“So, there's more to come on that,” King concluded. “There are a lot of people that know a great deal more about that than we do, but we’re going to stick to what we can do, which is biosecurity and protecting our flocks.”

Meanwhile, the AI outbreak continues to wreak havoc on commercial egg farms.

In the latest update on new cases, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture said H5N2 spread to a commercial egg farm where 1.7 million birds will be culled. The finding in Dixon County is the first confirmed case of the virus in the state making Nebraska the 16th state affected by the ongoing outbreak. Meanwhile, four new cases of the virus were detected in northwest Iowa, which brings the number of cases to 49.

Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley urged US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ensure the agency’s resources are properly deployed. The legislators wrote a letter to Vilsack expressing their concerns.

“I’ve heard from producers that the current pace at which depopulation is occurring may not be fast enough,” Grassley said in a statement. “There are additional questions about how long producers will need to leave their barns empty once the depopulation process is complete and sites are deemed free of this disease by testing.

“USDA could help calm a lot of nerves if they provided answers to a few of these questions. The sooner that clarity can be given on timelines for repopulating buildings, the better prepared everyone will be to make decisions about this crisis,” he added.