The current bird flu outbreak in South Dakota is three times worse than in 2015

South Dakota’s avian flu outbreak is more than triple the size of a similar outbreak in 2015, and through the first week of April more than 1.25 million birds have been destroyed after outbreaks were detected among state poultry producers.

So far, the virus has been detected at 32 premises, more than triple the number in 2015, said Dr. Mendel Miller, an assistant state veterinarian with the South Dakota Animal Industry Board. This year’s outbreak has infected flocks in 14 East River counties that stretch from south to north.

“We learned a lot in 2015, and that’s helped us,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, it’s not fun to deal with no matter how much you know about it.”

Avian flu has been detected in poultry flocks around the Midwest and in other parts of the country, according to the United State Department of Agriculture. In South Dakota the virus has primarily been wiping out turkey flocks. Miller said the virus is so deadly that once it gets into a flock, all of the birds are dead within a couple days. The birds are destroyed to prevent the virus from spreading.

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The 2022 avian influenza outbreak in South Dakota is more than triple the size of an outbreak in 2015, leading to the loss of dozens of flocks among East River producers.
The 2022 avian influenza outbreak in South Dakota is more than triple the size of an outbreak in 2015, leading to the loss of dozens of flocks among East River producers.

“It just kills birds,” he said.

The Animal Industry Board has the authority to ban the importation of poultry into the state, but with this outbreak it wouldn’t stop the virus.

“We would have the ability if we thought it was helpful,” Miller said. “The honest answer is this avian influenza is not coming into the state from birds, at least birds we can control.”

The virus was detected in March among snow geese and Canadian geese harvested by hunters, the USDA has reported.

Avian flu outbreak will be 'devastating' to South Dakota producers

Charles Riggins, who runs Riggins Home Grown Foods near Bruce, South Dakota said it hasn’t affected his flock of free-range chickens. But he’s nervous about the virus. If it’s detected within six miles of his farm, it could lead to his flock being destroyed.

“We try to keep birds from other flocks out of our flock,” he said. “We don’t have geese landing on our land because we don’t have any sloughs.”

Besides hitting producers, the demise of poultry flocks around the country will spill over to processors and ultimately consumers. Jordan Woodbury, the president and CEO of Dakota Provisions in Huron, South Dakota predicted it would be “devastating” over the next four or five months. Dakota Provisions harvests about 4.5 million turkeys a year, mostly from South Dakota producers. The avian influenza outbreak has already cost the plant 1.4 million birds.

Dakota Provisions can also process other protein products, including beef, pork and chicken, and Woodbury said the plants will try to expand on those products while turkey flock are repopulated. The plant’s full-time employees will be reallocated to those products and other duties.

“We’ll keep them busy throughout the next four months,” he said.

The good news, he said, is that growers are already repopulating flocks, and he hopes that by September they will be running at normal capacity again.

“You just got to keep your head up and persevere,” Woodbury said.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: South Dakota's bird flu outbreak sees 1.25 million birds destroyed