Don’t count these chickens out: Rescue farm fights back after viral outbreak

A farm animal rescue near Steinbach was already devastated to put their poultry in quarantine due to a highly infectious virus — and now they’re losing visitors and fielding complaints from angry neighbouring farms that want the birds put down.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/06/2019 (1375 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A farm animal rescue near Steinbach was already devastated to put their poultry in quarantine due to a highly infectious virus — and now they’re losing visitors and fielding complaints from angry neighbouring farms that want the birds put down.

Raelle Schoenrock owns Kismet Creek Farm with her husband Karl Schoenrock.

This spring, several chickens they’d purchased at a farm auction started showing signs of respiratory illness. After two hens died, Schoenrock sent them to the veterinarian for an autopsy.

“It took a few days for results and then our vet texted me that she would be coming personally to discuss the lab results,” Schoenrock said. ”I knew then it was going to be something bad.”

Fourteen of their 40 rescue hens were sick with Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT), a respiratory virus that’s so contagious, the usual response is to kill and bury the entire flock.

“We stood by our chicken pen and I bawled,” Schoenrock said. “It was inconceivable to me that strangers would come in and kill half of my sanctuary residents.”

Working with her vet and the provincial veterinarian’s office, they settled on a plan to keep the rescued birds alive: a quarantine.

“Visitors are now several feet away from the birds, which include chickens, guineafowl, ducks and turkeys. All of them got quarantined,” Schoenrock said.

Most of the flock has recovered but a third hen has since died. Like all the animals at Kismet Creek, they have names: Donna Cherry, Luba and Jeannette.

A spokesperson for the province confirmed the quarantine went into effect on Friday and that several biosecurity requirements had already been implemented by then.

“We’ve had to add more new fencing, reinforce existing fencing, extend it higher,” Schoenrock said. “The amount we have spent to quarantine as opposed to culling our flock is about $6,000 so far, if you include lost wages (she lost a part-time job at another rescue due to the outbreak), cancelled field trips, all of it. We are very lucky to have received about $1,000 so far in donations from fellow animal lovers supporting our decision.”

The farm holds tours to help cover the costs of supporting the rescue animals, but since the outbreak, one’s cancelled and another simply didn’t show up.

Local farmers are worried, too — and keep calling Manitoba Chicken Producers to voice their concerns. Executive director Wayne Hiltz said with five chicken farms close by and another 10 within 10 kilometres, there is a real risk the virus could spread.

“They’re in the heart of commercial poultry production and two, they have tours and they’ve refused to stop those. That’s the risk,” Hiltz said.

“If this was in a commercial flock, they’d eradicate that flock within 48 hours … that’s what we’d do to protect the industry.”

There hasn’t been an outbreak of ILT at a commercial farm in 30 years, he said. The provincial website on ILT says there’s usually one or two cases of the infectious herpes virus a year.

While usually spread by direct contact between birds, the website states ILT can also be spread indirectly through equipment or spread between sites by pests like rodents.

Hiltz said all Manitoba poultry producers have been notified of the ILT outbreak and farms within 10 kilometres have been advised to go up from Level 1 biosecurity to Level 3. It costs money and time, but he says it’s a necessary investment.

“The risk if they don’t, they could lose a flock of several thousand birds — the cost (of that) is significantly higher,” he said.

Up to 80 per cent of Kismet Creek’s birds were bought at local farm auctions. The three that first showed signs of getting sick came on March 29, Schoenrock said. She’s not sure when they’ll be able to rescue more with all that’s going on.

It’s always been her dream to have a rescue farm — Karl came from a farm family and had 80 acres when they married. Now Scoenrock’s dream is at risk.

“This situation is just another hurdle to overcome, another chance to learn and do better. We’re just getting started, and plan to continue saving farmed animals for the rest of our lives,” she said.

The provincial veterinarian’s office said in a statement that it will continue to follow up and make sure the quarantine is being implemented correctly.


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