CANNON FALLS, Minn. (WCCO) — Thanksgiving is next month and this year, it comes after the bird flu killed millions of Minnesota turkeys.
Last spring, more than 100 farms across the state had infected flocks of turkeys that had to be destroyed.
Those farmers experienced severe financial losses. Most of them have spent the last couple of months restocking.
And now they are now bracing for the possibility that the bird flu could return.
The farm we visited in Cannon Falls has been home to turkeys since 1939. Ferndale Market is known for its free-range turkeys, raised with no antibiotics. This year, it was one of the lucky turkey farms.
No bird flu was detected. John Peterson is one of the owners
“All of us had a lot of sleepless nights, not only worrying about our farm but there was so much uncertainty surrounding the whole situation,” Peterson said. “I think that geography was our best friend. We are in a part of the state that is a little more isolated, so thankfully we were fine.”
Many of the affected farms were in Kandiyohi County, near Willmar. Scientists suspect migrating ducks and geese spread the disease through their droppings that were later tracked onto farms.
And now as the winter migration of those birds draws near, there’s concern turkeys in Minnesota will see another wave of the disease.
“At this point everyone is trying to be very vigilant about not tracking anything into a flock of turkeys. There is a lot of mystery about how those introductions really happened,” Peterson said.
The past spring and summer, the bird flu wiped out five million turkeys in Minnesota. That’s about 10 percent of what the state produces each year.
Leaders with the Board of Animal Health say this time around, Minnesota is better prepared and better equipped to handle an outbreak.
Dick Peterson is John’s father.
“We have good friends who went through it. It was heartbreaking for sure,” Dick said.
Inside the store where the Peterson family sells turkeys ready to be cooked, customers have shared their concerns.
“People were indicating they were thinking of us. They wanted to know if everything was okay. It was a really nice feeling of being supported,” Jane Peterson, John’s mother, said.
The last case of the bird flu in Minnesota was reported on June 5. Scientists say hot weather makes it harder for the virus to spread. Cool, windy conditions make it easier. They say there’s no way of knowing if it will return this fall.