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Thursday, February 2, 2017




Thursday, 8:30 AM.  6 degrees F at the ferry dock, 4 on the back porch.  Wind SW, calm with moderate gusts, humidity 72%.  The barometer is mostly steady, now at 30.33".  Today and tomorrow should be partly cloudy.  The weather then will warm up some, and be again overcast with snow showers on Friday with the possibility of heavy snow by Tuesday. Yesterday turned out to be beautiful.
   Have you ever noticed how volatile egg prices can be?  Eggs are one of the best and least expensive sources of protein, even when prices are at their peak, but can often be a tremendous bargain. I always thought low price to be a seasonal thing and it is to some extent, but it is also a function of epidemics of bird flu in commercial poultry production.
   Avian flu, or bird flu, is a strain of the flue virus that has birds as its principle biotic reservoir.  It can also infect pigs, cats, dogs and other animals including humans (in which it is particularly deadly) but it is spread principally by birds, human to human spread being rather rare.  People are infected by handling birds, alive or dead, and principally while working raising or processing chickens and turkeys.
   I remember well becoming terribly ill after cleaning out an old chicken coup many years ago, and I have been cautious concerning chickens ever since.
   Since 1990 there have been numerous outbreaks of bird flu, causing the death or preventive destruction of millions of chickens and turkeys, and economic losses of billions of dollars, worldwide.  When massive losses of domestic birds occur, commercial populations have to be built up again with egg production, and usually there are more eggs produced than necessary, leading to a flooding of the egg market and reduced egg prices until equilibrium is again reached.
   Wild bird populations carry the disease but do not usually succumb to it, and they therefore spread it to domestic flocks during their migrations .  This is an important source of infection in Asia, the Middle East and Europe, where many people raise their own chickens, and where many commercial operations are small and not attuned to the flu epidemics.
   Bird flu is extremely contagious and can spread to large commercial operations in this country through many means other than wild birds.  Currently there are serious outbreaks of bird flu in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, including cases among humans.  Researchers are constantly working with the avian flu virus trying to keep ahead of virus mutations and with formulation of new vaccines.  The University of Wisconsin plays a significant role in such research.
   The bird flu problem is very much akin to the spread of disease from wild populations of bison and other grazing animals to domestic cattle, stirring the same debates.
   As the world becomes more populated and there is more and more commerce in chickens, turkeys and eggs between nations and continents, bird flu will pose an even greater threat, and migrating wild birds will likely be blamed more and more for the spread of disease.  There eventually will have to be a balance established accounting for the size of commercial poultry operations, the education of home based chicken producers and migrating wild bird populations, and it won't be easy.  Part of that process I suspect must be the establishment of natural immunity in commercial fowl populations, along with current antibiotic measures.
   One thing is certain for me:  wild birds should not take the brunt of the control efforts.
   Portions of this post were obtained from The Wall Street Journal articles and information on the web.

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