It has not been a good month for Brome Lake Ducks. An outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1), or avian flu, was first detected last December in Europe, and by March it had spread to 33 countries. The first cases of avian flu in Canada were detected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on February 1st and producers across the country have been in crisis management mode ever since.
“We were hit really hard in the beginning of April,” says Angela Anderson, general manager of Brome Lake Ducks in Knowlton. “We put ourselves in auto-quarantine and advised the CFIA as soon as we saw neurological signs of avian influenza. Our birds were behaving a little strange, and there was a slight drop in egg production. We tested them and they came back positive.”
Outbreaks were also confirmed at facilities in Wotton, St-Claude and St-Georges-de-Windsor. The order came back to depopulate the Knowlton site, including the hatchery, which had over 300,000 birds in production.
“The biggest blow to our company was to the Knowlton site, where we have all our parent and grandparent stock and our baby birds and eggs,” says Anderson. “So when the test came back positive, it’s like cutting the legs out from under you.”
Over 150,000 birds have so far been euthanized, and over 300,000 eggs have been destroyed at four sites. The CFIA takes care of euthanizing the birds, which is done on-site by CO2 gas, according to strict animal welfare protocols to make sure the animals don’t suffer. In the 110 years of the company’s existence, this is the first time that they’ve had to resort to such measures.
Scientists say that the current strain of avian flu now spreading across the globe is much stronger than anything they’ve seen in the past. In the U.S., avian flu has now been detected in 34 states and led to the demise of 37.5 million poultry.
So where does Brome Lake Ducks go from here?
“We have two weeks left of slaughter, but after that we’ll be down for quite a long time,” says Anderson. “We have about 56 employees at the Knowlton site and we’re working to relocate some of them to other sites and looking to do an employee share program with local businesses.”
The boutique will remain open from Wednesday to Sunday. Although the company is in talks with various levels of government to get support, nothing has been promised as of yet.
“We’re slowly getting things back up and running, but it’s going to be a long process. We’re looking at eight to twelve months,” says Anderson. “We came back from a major fire in 2016, then there was COVID, but we have a very solid team and a wonderful owner in Mario Côté, and we’re very confident that we’ll come through this situation as well.”