Poultry producers saying 'not again' as avian influenza spreads through the Midwest

Educational talks at the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention were geared towards letting producers know what USDA APHIS and university Extension programs are doing to help slow down progression of avian influenza.

A poultry producers reads the schedule at the entrance to the convention of the Midwest Poultry Federation on March 22, 2021 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The entrance to the convention of the Midwest Poultry Federation on March 22, 2021 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Noah Fish / Agweek

MINNEAPOLIS ― Avian influenza was on the mind of just about everyone attending the largest trade show and convention that's dedicated to the poultry industry, hosted by the Midwest Poultry Federation at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Lara Durben, communications director for MPF, said the event March 22-24 was the 51st annual convention for the Midwest Poultry Federation.

"It's a live production-focused show for poultry farmers, the poultry companies, and they come from all over the U.S., Canada and even internationally," she said on day one of the event in the Twin Cities. "We have a trade show, and education and of course, social and networking events as well."

Durben said the event is also meant to connect the supply chain of the poultry industry.

"We have over 250 exhibitors here that connect with the farmers on all of the products and services that are needed on their farms when they're raising their birds," she said. "From construction and building, to feed nutrition, to technology and everything in between."


At the convention was Kenneth Koelkebeck, a professor and Extension specialist with the University of Illinois. His research is in poultry production, environmental management, waste management, nutrition, biosecurity impacts, small flock and commercial poultry producers.

Koelkebeck, along with Darrin Karcher of Purdue University, put together the educational programming included with the convention. Speakers from the industry and academia talk about various poultry related topics at the convention, said Koelkebeck, and try to answer audience questions.

Avian influenza, round two

The biggest topic this year was obviously the recent detection of the Eurasian H5 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza, said Koelkebeck, even though they had programming developed before the influenza had spread.

Bird flu
Avian influenza was a big topic of conversation at the Midwest Poultry Federation in Minneapolis.
File photo

"A lot of speakers have mentioned what avian influenza is doing to the poultry industry, and how it's going to affect it," he said.

Koelkebeck said when the avian influenza spread in 2015, the industry had to depopulate so many laying hens and turkeys that it has still yet to recover from it.

"We're not over it yet," he said of 2015. "The last (detection) in 2015 was in mid June, so we'll have to remain remain vigilant in the industry and to see how we can try to slow it down."

What poultry producers learned in 2015 that can help them deal with the current outbreak is how to practice good biosecurity, said Koelkebeck.

"What that means is limit your visitors, and make sure that the equipment coming on the farm is clean," he said.


Koelkebeck said with feed trucks going from operation to operation, it's kind of hard for producers to do that.

"But I think we learned a lot of biosecurity steps in industry to try to slow it down," said Koelkebeck.

He said the virus is carried by migratory waterfowl and makes its way into commercial operations through a number of avenues.

"It's like the producers are saying 'oh no, here we go again,'" said Koelkebeck. "We hope it's not a repeat of trying to depopulate so many turkey and layer operations."

He said that some of the educational talks at the MPF convention were geared towards letting producers know what USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is doing and what universities are doing to try to slow down the progression of avian influenza this year.

Cage free push

The push by many states — starting in California — for poultry to be raised cage-free was also a big topic at this year's convention. Koelkebeck said the birds' needs are quite a bit different in cage-free environments compared to in cages.

"The industry has been ramping up their production of commercial operations to handle cage free," Koelkebeck said. " But we're not there yet, with only about 30% of the laying hen population is housed in cage free systems."

He said he's not sure the industry will get close to 100% by 2025.


"There's a lot of different requirements, and I think the industry still has things to learn, and some of our speakers here this week are talking about the things that we need to change to manage birds in a cage free system," he said.

As far as what the industry knows about the avian influenza and how it relates to cage free birds, there's not much, said Koelkebeck.

"We don't know whether it can spread as fast in cage free as it can in cages," he said.

The industry also has a lot to learn about the process for depopulating birds housed in cage free environments compared to those in cages. The two cases are quite a bit different, said Koelkebeck.

Brent Olson from Cashton Farm Supply in Cashton, Wisconsin, attended the Organic Egg Farmers of America annual symposium which was held during the 2022 MPF convention.

Olson was concerned about the spread of avian influenza after its presence was detected in a commercial layer chicken flock in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, on March 14.

"That's a case that dropped about two and a half million birds," said Olson. "And for us, that barn is about two and a half hour away."

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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