Game Bird Producers Wary of Avian Influenza | Main Edition | – Lancaster Farming

Since pheasants are commonly raised in outdoor flight pens and it’s not feasible to raise them indoors, producers face a unique risk when it comes to avian influenza.
Staff Reporter
Since pheasants are commonly raised in outdoor flight pens and it’s not feasible to raise them indoors, producers face a unique risk when it comes to avian influenza.
As cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza turn up in New York, New Jersey and Delaware, poultry and game bird producers in Pennsylvania worry their state could be next.
The threat of the disease was a major focus at the 2022 Pennsylvania Game Breeders and Hunting Preserves Conference held Feb. 28 in State College.
While much of the disease concern centers on commercial poultry farms and backyard chicken flocks, those who raise game birds such as pheasants, quail and chukars need to be equally vigilant, according to Megan Lighty, an avian diagnostic and outreach veterinarian with Penn State Extension.
In fact, the nature of how game birds are generally raised puts producers in a unique situation when it comes to protecting against avian influenza.
“You guys are at a disadvantage because you have birds outside,” she said. “The highest risk is the East Coast, but every producer in the U.S. should be on high alert.”
While the circumstances may differ, the means of protecting birds against a disease outbreak remains similar among all producers of poultry and game birds. It all comes down to a strong biosecurity plan, Lighty said, cautioning that state and federal officials are taking enforcement seriously.
“If your flock is in a control area and you can’t prove you have a biosecurity plan, you will not be allowed to move anything off the farm,” she said. “Make sure you have a plan and make sure it’s written down.”
Most game birds are raised for hunting purposes for pay-to-hunt operations, and Lighty advised producers to avoid participating in the activity themselves when it comes to any wild bird species. Harvesting wild birds and bringing them back to the farm could be a source for the spread of avian influenza, she said.
“Hunting wild birds is a huge risk right now. Now is not the time to go hunting,” Lighty said.
One of the largest propagators of pheasants on the East Coast is the Pennsylvania Game Commission, raising more than 200,000 chicks on two farms in the state.
Pheasant chicks arrive to the agency’s farms in April, and they’ll spend the first few weeks inside brooder houses before being transitioned to expansive outdoor yards. While it’s recommended to keep poultry inside to reduce contact with wild birds, keeping pheasants indoors isn’t an option at the PGC’s game farms.
“Raising pheasants at game farms is a completely different ballgame in terms of necessary space and environmental conditions compared to an industrial poultry operation where there is no expectation that the birds will ever need to survive outdoors, or a backyard flock of 10 chickens,” said agency spokesman Travis Lau. “We raise 120,000-plus birds per farm, and those birds need to be able to fly well and have some level of ability to forage for themselves, and some level of hardiness to the weather they will encounter when stocked into the wild.”
But the agency does take steps to maintain biosecurity on the farms and protect pheasants from the risk of disease.
“All brooder yards and holding fields are fenced and have overhead netting that prevents interaction with large wild birds and limits interaction with smaller wild birds,” Lau said. “We practice rigorous biosecurity and avian flu surveillance at our game farms to safeguard our pheasants from avian flu and other diseases.” 
Lancaster Farming’s coverage of avian influenza in 2022. 
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding discusses Pennsylvania’s preventative and preparedness measures for managing avian influenza. 
Avian influenza led to the death of more than 1.6 million captive birds last month in the eastern United States.
Staff Reporter
Tom Venesky is a staff reporter for Lancaster Farming. He can be reached at
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