Thousands of hens to be culled as flu hits fifth farm

Melissa Meehan and William Ton |

Tests confirm highly pathogenic bird flu has again been detected in Victoria’s southwest.
Tests confirm highly pathogenic bird flu has again been detected in Victoria’s southwest.

Tens of thousands of hens will be euthanised after a fifth Victorian poultry farm was plunged into lockdown due to an avian influenza detection.

Tests confirmed the highly pathogenic H7N3 strain of bird flu had been detected on the Lethbridge farm owned by Farm Pride in the state’s southwest, Agriculture Victoria said on Friday.

It is the company’s second farm to test positive for bird flu and houses about 40,000 birds, accounting for roughly four per cent of total production capacity.

“The company will seek compensation from the Emergency Animal Disease Compensation Scheme arising from the disposal of these birds,” Farm Price said in a financial update.

The farm is situated within an area where movement had already been restricted, covering properties at Meredith and Lethbridge.

Another Lethbridge farm, also operated by Farm Pride, was confirmed to have the virus on Tuesday, leading to about 80,000 hens being culled – about eight per cent of the company’s total production capacity.

Two farms operated by Avgo and Surf Coast Eggs Farms in Meredith and Terang euthanised about 500,000 birds after testing for two different strains on May 22.

A fourth farm within the Meredith and Lethbridge area was confirmed to have avian influenza on Wednesday.

A control area buffer zone is in place, bound by Bacchus Marsh Road in the east and Colac-Ballarat Road on the western boundary.

Victoria’s chief veterinary officer Graeme Cooke said the newest detection was not unexpected. 

“It’s why our reasonable and risk-based restricted and control areas are in place and shows that Agriculture Victoria’s comprehensive and ongoing surveillance activities are working well to date,” he said.

Agriculture Victoria would continue to work with affected producers and the wider industry to support business continuity while minimising the risk of the spread of the disease, Dr Cooke said.

Eggs and poultry products from supermarkets do not pose a risk and are safe to consume. 

Dr Cooke said the current outbreak was yet to significantly impact supplies, as Victoria has a secure supply chain that includes the importation of eggs from interstate. 

Avian influenza is a viral disease of birds and is found across the globe.

If poultry contract the disease it can spread between birds or when contaminated poultry products, feed, equipment or other items are moved between sites. 

The avian influenza virus can survive for long periods in droppings, respiratory secretions, water, feathers, eggs and meat.