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As Avian Flu Concerns Drive Egg Shortages and High Prices, R.I. Farmers See Increase in Demand

As Avian Flu Concerns Drive Egg Shortages and High Prices, R.I. Farmers See Increase in Demand

By Colleen Cronin

While an avian flu outbreak has led to the death of millions of birds nationally, triggering high egg prices and shortages in grocery stores, some Rhode Island farmers have noticed an increase in demand for their products.

Since the outbreak started and ramped up over the summer, Pat McNiff of Pat’s Pasture farm said he’s seen a “slight uptick” in sales of eggs, and saw a big spike around the holidays for turkeys, which are also impacted by the disease.

Fourth-generation farmer Adam Baffoni of Baffoni’s Poultry Farm in Johnston said the farm has seen an increase in demand for eggs since the outbreak began.

Rhode Island has largely been spared by the national outbreak that has affected more than 57 million domesticated birds since the beginning of last year. The state’s only reported outbreak happened in October and impacted a flock of 60 birds in Newport County. (Nine more wild birds, which are counted separately, have been identified with the disease in Rhode Island, mostly in Washington County, during the same time period.)

Although the general risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) for humans is low and rare, “if you’re a chicken, it’s terrible,” McNiff said. The mortality rate for infected birds is about 90%.

McNiff’s farm in East Greenwich, as its name implies, pastures its chickens, allowing them to roam on an acre in the winter and through rotating acres in the summer to feed. Outdoor flocks can be harder to protect from wild animal contamination than chickens kept confined inside, so McNiff said they have employed a lot of vigilance.

Erin Diaz of Brushy Brook Farm in Hope Valley also allows her chickens to be on pasture and has had to be careful to keep the barnyard secured from outside animals. Brushy Brook also used to take in birds from other people when they no longer wanted them, but Diaz said she doesn’t do that anymore.

Since the federal government requires the depopulation of a whole flock when one bird has been identified with the disease, an outbreak at a small farm, like Pat’s, would be devastating, McNiff said. The government does provide economic relief for each bird that is killed, but McNiff said it could take months to obtain new chickens and for those chickens to then lay eggs.

Baffoni’s has also been vigilant through the outbreak. The farm receives deliveries of new chickens every couple of weeks and inspects each batch for signs of infection before they mingle with the existing population.

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