Nearly 1.8 million chickens culled in Colorado bird flu outbreak

Nearly 1.8 million chickens will be killed after bird flu was detected at an egg-laying operation in Weld County, a major resurgence on a commercial farm of the disease that has already seen more than 6 million birds culled.

Gov. Jared Polis verbally declared a disaster declaration for the facility over the long holiday weekend. The move activates the state’s emergency operations plan and makes additional resources available to respond to the outbreak.

A spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Agriculture declined to name the facility.

The mass culling — or “depopulation,” as the state described it — is the second-largest in a commercial flock since bird flu was first detected in Colorado in early 2002. In June 2022, an outbreak at a commercial poultry facility, also in Weld County, resulted in more than 1.9 million birds being culled.

The strain of bird flu, also known as highly pathogenic avian influenza, is the same as the one currently circulating through Colorado dairy herds. But the infections in cattle have rarely been fatal.

The same is not true of infections in birds, hence the “highly pathogenic” part of the virus’s name. Since its discovery in Colorado, part of a worldwide bird flu outbreak, the disease has killed untold numbers of wild birds, as well as some mammals such as bears, mountain lions and skunks.

When bird flu infiltrates a poultry farm — whether it’s a commercial one or of the backyard variety — standard protocol is to kill the entire flock and destroy any eggs to prevent the disease from spreading. Producers may be entitled to compensation from the federal government for their losses.

Those large commercial cullings peaked the second half of 2022 in Colorado, and in 2023 the state saw a relative trickle of reported cases, mostly in backyard or small commercial operations, as well as in wild birds.

But in February of this year, 67,000 chickens were killed in an outbreak at a farm in Delta County, marking a grim resurgence.

Colorado has also identified two cases of avian influenza in humans. Both cases were mild and in workers who had close contact with infected animals. The workers recovered, and bird flu is still considered a low risk to humans.

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