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Avian flu concern causes change in Downar Bird Farm proceedures

LARAMIE – Due to disease concerns, the Downar and Sheridan Game Bird Farms are requesting that visitors make an appointment before stopping in to tour either of the facilities where pheasants are raised by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Traditionally, both game bird farms have been open for public visits without an appointment, but disease concerns are requiring Game and Fish to make some changes to how public tours and visitation occurs. Annually, these two facilities raise and release approximately 30,000 pheasants for public hunting. The Downar Bird Farm is located south of Torrington and is normally open to public visits without an appointment. But a positive case of avian influenza (HPAI) near Cheyenne in the spring of 2015 has game bird farm managers on the offensive. “We want people to enjoy the game bird farm but keeping our game birds healthy is our first concern,” said Ben Milner, coordinator at Downar Game Bird Farm. “We are requesting that anyone who wants to visit the game bird farm make an appointment first. We are taking the necessary precautions to limit potential exposure to disease and protect this public resource.” The Sheridan Game Bird Farm is located south of Sheridan and is instituting the same policy to safeguard birds there. Avian influenza viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Wild aquatic birds can be infected with avian influenza viruses in their intestines and respiratory tract, but usually do not get sick. However, avian influenza viruses like HPAI are very contagious among birds and can sicken and even kill certain bird species including chickens, ducks, turkeys and pheasants. Avian influenza has been confirmed in eleven states, including Wyoming, in wild and/or domestic birds. Milner said it is possible that waterfowl hunters could potentially come into contact with infected feces from geese or ducks and then inadvertently contaminate the facility as they stop in for a tour at the game bird farm. “If visitors make an appointment it will give us time to prepare and will also give us an opportunity to educate them about this disease. There is no way to know if avian influenza is around so the responsible thing to do at this time is to be preventative about exposure,” Milner said. Game Bird Farm Supervisor Darrell Meineke echoes Milner’s position: “The game bird farm program is very important to Wyoming’s pheasant hunters and to Game and Fish. We aren’t trying to be alarmist or create unnecessary concerns; we just want to be proactive.” Hunters are encouraged to follow routine precautions such as wearing latex or rubber gloves when cleaning birds, washing hands with soapy water after cleaning, cleaning and disinfecting equipment and surfaces that come in contact with wild birds (for example, washing with soapy water and disinfecting with a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution), and cooking wild birds thoroughly before eating the meat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that birds are safe to eat as long as they are properly handled and cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees. Image: A pheasant cock h/t Guido Bissattin/Shutterstock.com #shortgo