Thousands of small young turkeys ran around the barns on the Moline family farm Monday near Manson, the first Iowa farm to restock birds after a bird flu outbreak decimated flocks in the Midwest.
Owner Brad Moline, who farms with his father and brother, said it's a sign the industry is turning the page on an outbreak in which about 48 million birds died from the virus or where euthanized to prevent its spread.
The virus spread to the Midwest in the spring, affect 15 states, with Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska losing the most birds.
Cleaning and disinfection at Nebraska and Minnesota farms should be completed by mid-August and at Iowa farms by the end of the month, said Jack Shere, a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinary administrator.
Farms must wait 21 days after they test free of virus before introducing new birds, he said.
Moline hosted state and federal agriculture officials at a news conference Monday to celebrate restocking barns and offer some hope to others still awaiting the green light to move forward.
The young turkeys in his barns were trucked to the farm 120 miles northwest of Des Moines from a hatchery in Wilmar, Minnesota.
Moline recalled how about 90 turkeys were found dead on May 19 in one of his barns of 7,000 birds. Within four days, only a handful of birds were still alive.
"The disease is that destructive and that devastating and that fast. It's something generations of turkey farmers have never seen before and have never been seen on this farm and hope we never do again," he said.
Moline and agriculture officials said the industry is much better prepared should there be a recurrence of the virus this fall.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said poultry farmers are looking at biosecurity practices that include controlling worker access to barns and keeping vehicles from parking near them. Wild birds and rodents, which carry infected droppings on their feet, must be kept out of barns, he said.
The outbreak cost the poultry industry an estimated $360 million, spreading so quickly it overwhelmed resources.
"There are a list of things that if it comes back again we'll be more aggressive on," Northey said. "We'll be more aggressive to make sure it doesn't move and if we get a few cases it will stay at a few cases."
The key will be quicker detection of the virus, Shere said. He said farmers now know that even a few dead birds should be alarming. Some may consider preventative testing.
"The longer birds are infected, the more it spreads and the virus load climbs,' Shere said.