CHASE An egg producer in central Kansas, taking precautions because of concerns about bird flu reaching the United States, has closed its environmentally controlled chicken houses to the public and will no longer allow visits to its plant.
"We really like giving tours. Agriculture is an important part of the world, and we like sharing our part, but we don't want to jeopardize our business or cause any other trouble," Sherman Miller, general manager of Cal-Maine Foods of Kansas' plant near Chase in western Rice County, said Monday.
Jackson, Miss.-based Cal-Maine Foods Inc. has 1.3 million laying hens at its Chase operation, where it produces 1.1 million eggs a day.
The potential risk to its flocks would be from the droppings of wild migratory birds passing through the area, which someone might step on and track into a hen house. Employees sanitize clothing and shoes before entering buildings housing chickens.
Baby chick and turkey dealers in the Hutchinson area say they haven't had any communication from their suppliers about a potential threat.
"I hope it stays away," said Melynn Cannon of Mid-West Feed in Hutchinson, which retails up to 15,000 baby chicks a year. She said she made a call Monday to the hatchery that supplies its chicks and was told the company isn't concerned.
The C.M. Estes Hatchery in Springfield, Mo., which supplies baby chicks for Orscheln Farm and Home of Hutchinson, does not expect an impact on its business this spring.
"The state always keeps us informed, and because there have been no outbreaks in this country there's nothing to warn us about," a hatchery spokeswoman said. "How could you take precautions against something that hasn't happened yet?"
Phil Nisley, who raises up to 500 turkeys and 2,000 chicks near Pleasantview, also said he did not have any word from the out-of-state company where he gets his chicks.
The H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus has killed at least 63 people in Southeast Asia, most of them in Vietnam. That strain has ravaged poultry stocks in parts of Asia and spread through Eastern Europe, and it is the leading candidate for causing a global outbreak.
Health authorities are trying to stamp out poultry outbreaks quickly to reduce opportunities for the virus to mutate into a form that can pass easily between people. The virus now is hard for people to catch, and most reported deaths have been linked to humans handling infected poultry.