Sickened chickens put flock owners in tough position

Alexa Leiting, InDepth Editor

Freshman Raven Cranny knew something was wrong with their flock when Laya, along with two or three other birds, began to get lethargic, not eating much, and just generally looking sick.  

While they thought the birds had been infected with parasites, the backyard flock had actually been hit with avian influenza, a deadly bird virus, and it had already begun spreading to other hens. 

“I have nine chickens. We just recently got hit with pretty badly with the flu, but we only lost three chickens,” Cranny said. “That’s pretty good considering some entire flocks have been wiped out. It’s difficult, especially since we’re one of the only houses on the block that didn’t lose our entire flock,” says Cranny, who lives in Chalco Hills. Unfortunately, their neighbors’ flocks are still recovering from the hit. 

Starting in February of 2022, scientists detected a spreading illness among the bird species that has become commonly known as the “bird flu.” The sickness typically produces coughing and diarrhea as symptoms. Ducks and geese usually recover from the disease, but unfortunately the health of the chicken undergoes rapid decline. In other words, our beloved egg-producers generally pass away quickly following infection. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 58.4 million poultry, including both commercial and backyard flocks, have become sickened in all 50 states.

“Our flock started showing symptoms and just gradually they went on a decline,” Cranny explains. Their family decided to ask some questions to a vet in Nebraska City, where they were told they needed to quarantine their birds. However, by the time they received answers, a fourth of the flock had already passed away. 

“It was hard to see our pets start dying off. With the original 12 chickens, we were getting up to a dozen eggs a day. Now, we only get maybe three or four eggs a day because we have a couple of hens that are in menopause.”

With fewer and fewer chickens clucking around, fewer and fewer eggs are being laid. Due to the declining egg production, an increase in the price of eggs has occurred. Data pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average price for a dozen large Grade A eggs rose from $1.92 to $4.25 over the year of 2022. 

However, the rate of egg price inflation, “eggflation” if you will, has not had an equal distribution among the states. Midwestern states, specifically Iowa and South Dakota, had the most dramatic eggflation rates at an increase of 153 percent and 137 percent respectively. The reasoning behind this would be that Midwestern states like these are some of the largest egg-producers in the country. With a larger quantity of the item, the original cost of eggs in the Midwest was lower than other states (more product and less transportation costs). Unfortunately, this created a major turnaround when the epidemic occurred, slaying our most preferred birds. Smaller flocks lead to a smaller egg supply. In order to make up for the decreased supply, egg distributers have had to acquire them from other states. Thus, the overall price of eggs in the Midwest has risen the most. Even so, the highest prices for a dozen eggs were in other states, such as Hawaii and Florida due to very low egg production rates and high transportation costs. 

To add even more atop this coop crisis, border patrol agents have reported an increase in egg smuggling across the Mexico-U.S. border. Since eggs are significantly less expensive in Mexico, many travelers have attempted buying cheaper eggs down south and sneaking them into America, despite being illlegal to do so. Although the bird flu has affected Mexico’s egg prices, our southern neighbor has had significantly less issues with eggflation, giving smugglers the motivation. 

In order to combat this influenza, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises a few things to protect chicken flocks across the country: keep germs away by washing your hands before and after you enter a poultry area, isolate any birds showing symptoms, limit visitors near your flock, avoid wild birds and pests, and have a plan to prevent high-consequence biological agents and toxins from reaching your chickens. 

Cranny foresees continuing their measures of protection in order to prevent the return of influenza to their flock.

“We now give our flock monthly medications to keep the bird flu out. We hope that the sickness has finished passing through our flock, and we really hope to not see it return.”