Nearly 100 birds at Spallumcheen’s O’Keefe Ranch had to be killed following an avian flu outbreak.
“This has been a very trying time for everyone involved and there have been many tears shed,” said ranch manager Sherrilee Franks.
The outbreak was declared by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Sept. 18, which noted the birds were non-poultry, meaning the birds were used for reasons other than the production of animal products.
Previous outbreaks in the province occurred in 2004, 2014 and 2015.
O’Keefe’s birds remained winterized for an extended period to reduce exposure, and even then the ranch says the birds remained quarantined in their pens for months afterwards.
“Our birds are pretty spoiled,” said ranch hand Tambria Shortt. “We knew the quarantine was hard on them when our male tom turkey, New Orleans, decided to sit on a clutch of chicken eggs. He was even a great mother after they hatched. This is just a really hard thing to go through.”
As the summer progressed, the ranch started letting birds out on a rotational basis, which continued into September.
The first death was the eight-year-old New Orleans, and there was hope the death of the popular bird was not related to avian flu. The sudden death of a few birds shortly afterwards raised some red flags and authorities were called.
While only five birds were tested, all of which came back positive, Franks said all birds had to be euthanized. The ranch worked with authorities through the process of culling and is continuing work on decontamination.
But the loss of all the birds is weighing heavy, with one in particular.
“As we approach Thanksgiving, New Orleans, our tom turkey, will be greatly missed,” said Franks. “He will be who most remember. He loved people and would follow them around and always up for a good conversation.”
A section of the ranch will remain quarantined until the decontamination is completed, which is expected to take at least several weeks.
Franks says the ranch will stay open to the public with “very clear boundaries in place.”
“We feel confident the remainder of the grounds are safe and we are happy to report the other animals at the Ranch have not been affected,” Franks said.
The avian flu (H5N1) is a federally regulated disease that is spreading worldwide with the first instance reported in B.C. occurring in the North Okanagan on April 13.
The O’Keefe Ranch is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until the end of October. More information can be found at okeeferanch.ca.
READ MORE: Avian flu found in Spallumcheen birds