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Bird flu, inflation make it harder for Vt. farmers to get turkey on the Thanksgiving table

White turkeys with red necks and blue heads stand in a barn.
Krizzia Soto-Villanueva
/
Vermont Public
About 2,000 turkeys mill around one of seven barns at Stonewood Farm in Orwell, Vermont.

In one of the seven barns at Stonewood Farm in Orwell, about 2,000 male turkeys, also called "toms," are milling around.

Peter Stone has been farming turkeys for 26 years. This year, he raised about 37,000. He said sales have been good this year, but inflation has hit his bottom line.

"I won’t know the full effect of it until after Thanksgiving, but my grain bill is way up," Stone said. "Our cardboard boxes went up, the bags they go in went up, the little aluminum clip that clips that bag shut went up. The price of labor has gone up. I mean, just everything’s gone up."

"I won’t know the full effect of it until after Thanksgiving, but my grain bill is way up. Our cardboard boxes went up, the bags they go in went up, the little aluminum clip that clips that bag shut went up. The price of labor has gone up. I mean, just everything’s gone up."
Peter Stone, Stonewood Farm

While Thanksgiving is the turkey's time to shine, farmers begin raising them in the early spring. And this year, a double whammy of bird flu and rising inflation have made it harder for some Vermont turkey growers to put the birds on people's tables.

Margaret Loftus and Jonathan Durham, co-owners of Crossmolina Farm in West Corinth, said inflation has sent their grain bill way up. But concerns over avian flu almost ended their season before it started this year.

Turkeys peck at grass.
Krizzia Soto-Villanueva
/
Vermont Public
Crossmolina Farm co-owner Jonathan Durham checks on the turkeys.

"We missed one batch of meat birds at the beginning of the season because of bird flu," Loftus said. "There was a moment there when we thought the whole season might be done."

This year, more than 49 million birds in the U.S. have died of bird flu or been killed due to exposure to infected birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says the country is approaching a record number of infections.

In Vermont, the Agency of Agriculture said this year’s bird flu season has been rough as well.

"What was really unique about avian influenza in 2022 is that unlike 2014-2015, it really hit the whole country," said Kaitlynn Levine, Vermont's assistant state veterinarian. "The East is really feeling it as well."

More from Vermont Public news: Avian flu has been detected in Vermont. Here's how to protect your flock

She said the state has taken measures to keep Vermont’s birds safe, like regulating contact between Vermont poultry farmers and out-of-state hatcheries.

"We’re really thankful that Vermont producers were willing to put up with these kind of increased quarantines and biosecurity measures," Levine said.

Sampling has found that more resident wildlife is carrying the avian flu, which could mean the flu might be a sustained risk in Vermont. The Agency of Agriculture is asking Vermonters to report any and all sick birds.

This story is a collaboration between Vermont Public and the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.

Krizzia Soto-Villanueva is a Ph.D. student studying food systems at the University of Vermont.
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