SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — An egg layer site in Osceola County in northwest Iowa has lost 5.2 million birds to avian flu.

The owner is euthanizing those birds, Sonstegard Foods Company’s chief financial officer Max Barnett said in an email statement. The Iowa site, near Harris, is owned by Sunrise Foods which is an affiliate of Sonstegard Foods based in Sioux Falls.

Each of those hens will lay on average one egg a day, Barnett said. That’s 4.5 to 5 million eggs a day that won’t be in the market including the products of liquid eggs or frozen eggs sold by Sonstegard.

As of April 11, Iowa has lost at least 11.7 million egg laying hens to avian flu, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That’s a lot of Easter eggs.

It was estimated late last week that about 23 million birds have died as a result of avian flu.

The birds are euthanized to prevent the spread of avian flu to other birds and other sites.

Consumers may notice increases in egg prices in the store.

“Recent cases of bird flu have created additional strains on supply in limited situations,” Marc Dresner of the American Egg Board said in an April 11 statement. “Temporary increases in egg prices reflect many factors. Like many sectors of the economy, egg farming is being impacted by inflation and experiencing supply chain challenges related to increases in cost and availability of feed and grain, labor and transportation.”

Roughly 20 or so miles west of Sunrise Farms is Bosma Poultry, a Sibley-based trucking company that hauls young hens that aren’t laying (pullets) and egg laying hens across the U.S.

The company’s primary service area is the upper midwest, said company general manager and co-owner Kenny Van Aalsburg.

Avian flu has caused the company to change its driving routes and has meant some sites won’t be reached until after a quarantine ends, he said.

“It’s changing our routing,” Van Aalsburg said. “We avoid going by any farms or hot areas (infected with avian flu).”

If a truck typically turned right out of a pick-up site, it may need to turn left these days to avoid a hot area.

He uses a USDA map to pinpoint where sites including wild birds have been infected.

Aalsburg said the company does “the best it can” not to spread avian flu. Truckers follow biosecurity protocols just as producers do.

There is a chance of cross-contamination with any stop.

Truckers hauling chickens limit their stops, Van Aalsburg said.

“They try and stop as little as possible. If you go to a truck stop there could be people hauling turkeys there,” Aalsburg said. “When you stop, you don’t want it to be more than five or 10 minutes. You have to have the (trailer) panels dropped (to protect birds) but you need to make sure there is airflow.”

Although trucks needed to be cleaned before hauling loads before bird flu was detected, there is an added layer of safety.

If bird flu has been detected at a site or nearby while truck and driver are at the site, “(we) will leave the equipment and driver sit there for 72 hours,” Aalsburg said.

The 72-hour-wait is to prevent the spread of bird flu.

Although it’s “pretty crazy, still it’s not as bad as 2015 yet,” he said.

Animal health experts said waterfowl carried avian flu and there was also some farm site-to-farm site spread in 2015.

Waterfowl are the main spreaders this year.

“Bird flu is spread by migrating waterfowl and despite a farmer’s best efforts, the disease sometimes gets onto a farm. The poultry industry and farmers are collaborating with our government partners to quickly contain any detections and stop the spread,” said Kevin Stiles, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association.

“This time, a lot of wild birds are dying,” Van Aalsburg said. “They were carrying it in 2015 but not as many were dying.”

Van Aalsburg said the avian flu has followed the migration patterns. Cases have decreased recently on the east coast but it will be weeks before he thinks Iowa will be free from avian flu.

“In 2015, our last case was right at the end of June or in early July. I think we are looking at least until July,” Van Aalsburg said.

Until then, producers and truckers will be working to keep avian flu away while keeping up with the egg and poultry supply.

With Sonstegard and Sunrise, “We are focusing our attention towards the clean-up and disinfection process that will allow us to resume normal operations at Sunrise Farms. We know that it will be months before we are given the clearance from USDA / APHIS to begin repopulating, and much longer before we will be able to get back to our previous production levels,” Barnett said.

“Affordable food matters to everyone, and America’s egg farmers are working around the
clock to keep eggs affordable and in plentiful supply, especially during this busy Easter
season,” Dresner said.