Poultry shows across Nebraska have been cancelled in an effort to protect the state's poultry industry from further spread of the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza, commonly known as the bird flu.

Poultry shows across Nebraska have been cancelled in an effort to protect the state's poultry industry from further spread of the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza, commonly known as the bird flu.
 At press time, five confirmed outbreaks had been identified in Nebraska: four in Dixon County and one in Knox County in the northeastern corner of the state. These outbreaks affected laying hens, pullets and a flock of mixed fowl. Three flocks in Dixon County, totaling about 4 million birds, have already been depopulated. As an additional precaution, the NDA has placed 23 farms in Dixon County and 29 farms in Knox County under quarantine although no birds have shown signs of illness yet. The quarantine may be released after the farms have 21 days of negative test results.
“The decision to cancel poultry events was made in an effort to protect the physical and economic health of Nebraska’s poultry sector," said Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) Director Greg Ibach. "It is a difficult decision as I know youth and adults would soon be exhibiting their projects at local fairs.”  
“As a parent of past 4-H and FFA members, I understand the time and commitment that our youth put into their projects and can understand the disappointment they may feel in not being able to exhibit their projects this year," he continued. "This decision was not made lightly, but is necessary to assure we do everything possible to protect our  collective poultry flock from further spread of the virus.”
Although the cancellation of poultry shows statewide means many 4-H and FFA members won't be showing their birds at county fairs this summer, representatives from Nebraska Extension are still encouraging them to finish the projects.
"We know 4-H'ers statewide have been learning about the science of animals through their poultry projects," said Nebraska Extension Associate Dean Kathleen Lodl. "We will help them showcase that work and celebrate their successes in other ways." Lodl added that more information on alternate county fair projects will be available at 4h.unl.edu.  
The Johnson County Extension Office in Tecumseh was a day ahead of the NDA in canceling the poultry show at this year's Johnson County Fair. Fair organizers and local veterinarians determined that the location of the fairgrounds in relation to the Smart Chicken facility would have made biosecurity challenging. Exhibitors who were planning to show 4-H poultry projects will be offered the opportunity to create a display or exhibit to showcase their project, according to Jessica Jones, extension educator, and they can participate in a poultry presentation contest at the fair.
Nebraska joins a growing list of Midwestern states, including Iowa, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota, that have cancelled poultry shows this year. Officials are attempting to control the H5N2 outbreak, which has already affected 7 million birds in Nebraska and more than 44 million birds nationwide.
Gov. Pete Ricketts signed an avian influenza emergency declaration on May 12, a day after the first confirmed case of H5N2 in Nebraska was identified at a Dixon County egg farm housing 1.7 million hens.
“I cannot stress enough the importance for all Nebraska poultry facility operators to ensure they maintain the strictest of biosecurity measures,” Ibach said. “That means strictly limiting the traffic, both humans and vehicles, into and out of facilities in an effort to avoid any cross-contamination.”
Other biosecurity measures recommended by the NDA include cleaning and disinfecting equipment and vehicles when traveling onto or off the farm, cleaning and disinfecting footwear after leaving animal areas and not transporting animals from farm to farm.
“We have an NDA team in northeast Nebraska and already are receiving great support from federal, state and local partners,” Ibach said. “This declaration gives us additional tools to effectively deal with this disease. We have a poultry sector valued at $1.1 billion, so obviously the impacts of avian influenza will be far-reaching.”
Across the Missouri River, poultry farms in Iowa have reported 71 confirmed cases of the virus, with more than 29 million birds affected. Iowa is the nation's leading egg producer, according to the Iowa Egg Council, providing about one in five eggs sold nationwide. The state also provides 11 million turkeys annually for the nation's food supply.  
Poultry farmers in northwestern Iowa have been so overwhelmed by the number of dead birds that they've had to resort to a variety of methods to dispose of the carcasses, including composting, incineration, on-site burials or transportation to a landfill, such as the Loess Hills Landfill in Malvern, located about 60 miles northeast of Syracuse and 40 miles northeast of Nebraska City.  
Carcasses that will go to a landfill are put in biosecure bags, and the outside of the bag and the trucks that will haul them are disinfected on-site prior to leaving an infected farm. Drivers follow a route designed by the Iowa Department of Transportation that doesn't pass other poultry farms and haul the loads directly to the landfill. The trucks are again cleaned and disinfected at the landfill before heading straight back to the infected site.
Bob Glebs, the manager of the landfill in Malvern, said that his landfill received its first loads on Saturday, May 30, and has been averaging five trucks per day. Once a routine is established, that number could increase to 15 trucks per day. Each of those trucks carries two 20-cubic-yard boxes, and there is one 10- or 11-ton bag of bird carcasses and absorbent in each box.
The Loess Hills Landfill in Malvern has contracted with the USDA to take whatever the landfill's capacity is, which Glebs said could be around 1,000 bags. They are authorized to take the avian flu waste from any of the 18 affected counties, but so far the trucks have just been coming from four different locations in northwest Iowa.
Glebs talked about some of the measures taken to ensure there could be no contamination. "First of all, the landfill has a layer of clay and 80 mil membrane liner with collection of leachate. It would take six months to a year just for the leachate to reach bottom, and there's no chance for it to get in the water.
As far as anything airborne, the air is continually being monitored. And when the trucks are sprayed with a bleach/chemical solution to decontaminate them, that fluid is all collected, too, and taken elsewhere to be processed."
Everybody working in the disposal zone wears biohazard suits per regulations, said Glebs, and the delivery of the loads is also strictly regulated. "The driver of the truck never exits the vehicle, he drives straight from the infected site to the landfill and back and there are no stops other than the landfill," he said. "They do have emergency procedures to follow if a stop is unavoidable, though. The trucks are coming down I-29 and getting off on Highway 34, on routes that have been established and filed, and as long as the routes are followed they don't need an escort."
The loss of between 7 and 12 percent of the national flock of laying hens has resulted in "a significant reduction in the egg supply and perhaps the largest short-term change the U.S. egg market has ever experienced," said Maro Ibarburu, a business analyst with the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University. However, Ibarburu believes it's too soon to tell what the impact of avian flu will be on consumers.
In Nebraska, average egg prices have risen from $1.18 per dozen in April to $1.98 in May. Prices for breaker eggs (those used as ingredients in other foods) have risen from 63 cents per dozen in April to $2.25 per dozen in May.
Currently, the price of eggs is $2.45 a dozen at the Nebraska City Walmart.
This price increase could trickle down to consumers in the months ahead in higher prices for mayonnaise, cake mixes, ice cream and other foods that have eggs as a main ingredient.
In other parts of the country, grocery stores are limiting the number of cartons of eggs customers can buy, but local stores have no such restrictions in place.