In brief:

Poultry farmers are having to kill tens of thousands of chickens to stop the spread of bird flu.

The industry says it receives minimal financial support from the government.

What’s next?

Victoria’s chief veterinarian says farms infected with bird flu must be quarantined for at least three months.

As farmers in Victoria continue to battle the largest bird flu outbreak ever seen in the United States, business owners who lost their poultry face a grim recovery period.

Since May, more than a million chickens have been culled in south-west Victoria to combat bird flu, in line with national biosecurity protocols.

Infected birds have been found on seven farms near Meredith and one near Terang.

Bird flu has also been detected at two commercial poultry farms near Sydney and one in the Australian Capital Territory.

Linda Fahy, regional manager for animal health and welfare for south-west Victoria at Agriculture Victoria, said farmers who had to cull animals due to emergency situations were entitled to compensation for livestock losses.

A quarantine sign on a farm gate

Another strain of bird flu, H7N9, was found on a farm near Terang.(ABC South West Victoria: Jean Bell)

There is no other financial support available from the state government for companies that go months or years without income while their flocks recover to a point where they can re-enter the egg chain.

“Unfortunately, disaster recovery funding schemes do not apply to biosecurity emergencies,” Fahy said.

“There is no compensation for consequential damages, loss of market or loss of production.

“Farmers and companies can take out individual (private) insurance schemes, including income protection.”

Long recovery

Victoria’s chief veterinary officer Graeme Cooke said once a farm becomes infected with bird flu it must be quarantined for a minimum of three months.

“Every farm is different, (the quarantine time) depends on the size and scale,” Dr. Cooke said.

“The first phase is to remove the infected birds and prevent the spread. Then the farms are cleaned and disinfected. Then they also have to be empty for a while.

“The shortest possible time is three to four months, but in many cases it can take much longer due to the extent of the surgery.”

A 'No Entry' sign blocks the entrance to a farm

All seven farms affected by bird flu have been quarantined, including this one near Meredith.(ABC News: Rochelle Kirkham)

Farmers receive compensation from the state government for the birds killed during this period, but afterward they have to rebuild their businesses without financial help.

According to industry estimates, premium laying hens are between four months and two years old and cost about $25 each.

After this, the chickens lay lower quality eggs, which reduces the value of the chickens and the compensation paid to the farmer also decreases.

Agriculture Victoria would not confirm this with figures from the ABC, but did say that “the (compensation for) the cattle was calculated based on the value at the farm, and was determined as if the animal was disease free.”

“We take many different factors into account: age, sex, breed, body condition, live weight, but also production data and all other relevant factors at that time,” said Ms Fahy.

Is protection possible?

Australia has a nationally agreed response plan and cost-sharing arrangements to respond to animal diseases, including avian influenza.

The costs of cleaning up bird flu are passed on to the poultry sector through levies.

Dr Cooke said while vaccines are available for emergency animal diseases, vaccinating the Australian chicken population is unlikely to be an effective means of control or prevention.

“This is a virus that changes a lot and very quickly,” said Dr. Cooke.

a truck parked outside an egg farm

Agriculture Victoria staff are on site at a poultry farm in Meredith to combat an outbreak of bird flu.(ABC News: Rochelle Kirkham)

“There are some vaccines against bird flu available worldwide, but they are not very effective and it takes a long time to vaccinate the entire population.

“The national and global approach is to detect and eliminate the disease.

“At this point, we don’t have any evidence that would make us consider vaccines.”

According to Dr Cooke, vaccination could also help spread the disease among the country’s bird population.

a man in a coat standing in a field

Victoria’s chief veterinary officer Dr Graeme Cooke has confirmed that more than a million birds will be culled to prevent the spread of bird flu in the state.(ABC Melbourne: Christian Stella)

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