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Premise identification program not designed for avian flu

Premise identification program not designed for avian flu

Poultry and horses not included in mandatory premise ID program.

If you raise hogs, cattle, sheep or goats, even if only your kids raise them for 4-H projects, then you must establish a "premise identification" number with the Indiana Board of Animal Health. It's not a suggestion – it's the law. The premise ID system was introduced in Indiana just a few years ago as more people at both the state and federal level became concerned about the ability to trace back an animal that might turn out to be diagnosed with a disease problem at some point in the food chain.

Related: Indiana Livestock Traceability Rules for Jan. 1, 2015

Crack in premise ID system: Poultry premise identification is only voluntary. That means chickens or other poultry could be in many locations within a county with no one knowing whether they were there or not. It's an issue because avian flu has now been confirmed in Indiana. Note these movable free-range pasture chicken houses could be on any small farm, whether it has a premise ID or not.

The other major use for the system, according to BOAH, is to instantly identify and notify anyone who has a certain type of animals within a county should an outbreak of a disease of some specific situation occurs which puts all animal in the vicinity in that species at risk.

One challenge in the PBB incidents in Michigan in the 1970s and the PCB cases in Indiana soon after was that there was no premise ID system in place. Government officials, even if they had wanted to, had no way of quickly identifying where all the dairy cattle in the state were located.

The only catch right now is that in Indiana, premise ID registration with BOAH is required of cattle and bison, swine of all types, sheep, goats and cervids. However, obtaining a premise ID is only voluntary if you have horses or poultry.

It's the last one, poultry, that's causing some angst at the moment. The first case of avian flu confirmed in Indiana happened in a small, backyard flock, not in a major egg producing house. Since registration is only voluntary, it's much more difficult to know who has poultry on their farm or in their backyard.

If you've walked the aisles of Tractor Supply, Rural King or other farm stores lately, you know that poultry is a hobby for lots of people in rural Indiana. Some of these stores carry twice as much poultry feed and items for poultry as they do sheep, for example. These items are being bought by small producers, not Rose Acres or other large producers.

Related: How bird flu may impact consumers' poultry purchasing plans

The bottom line is that there are birds out there, but the Indiana government has good way to know where they are. And the fact that the first outbreak was confirmed in one of these types of small flocks isn't exactly reassuring that animals could be quarantined quickly if necessary.

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