An 82-year-old Sag Harbor gaming farm has closed after thousands of its birds were euthanized this week due to an avian flu outbreak, the farm’s owner told Newsday on Thursday.
Dave Schellinger, who owns Spring Farm on Clay Pit Road, said the outbreak of the contagious HPAI, or highly pathogenic avian Influenza, had somehow found its way into the duck pond on his decades-old farm. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently confirmed cases of HPAI in North Carolina, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Ohio and North Dakota.
“If I had to guess, it was a couple of ducks coming into my pond,” Schellinger said, when asked where the avian flu had come from.
In late February, federal, state and local officials had investigated after a backyard flock of birds in Suffolk County tested positive for HPAI. On Feb. 19, the USDA announced the positive identification of the bird flu when the first case in New York State was confirmed that day.
After several of his farm ducks died recently, Schellinger, 80, called health officials, who came to his farm to inspect the birds, and confirmed they had bird flu. All the birds on the gaming farm were then euthanized.
No birds left on farm
Schellinger said after his farm’s birds had all been euthanized he decided to permanently close. His father opened the farm in 1940 to raise ducks and pheasants as gaming birds and hold mallard hunts, walk-up hunts and continental shoots, Schellinger said.
The health inspectors “have a strict set of guidelines. People came in and they euthanized the birds, so I don’t have any birds left on my property, and I’m not going to have any more birds left on my property because I’m 80 years old and I’m out of business,” Schellinger said.
Schellinger said he had thought about closing the farm before the bird flu outbreak because he was getting older. However, he said, the euthanization of all the birds on his farm “was the deciding factor.”
Bird flu confirmed
Hanna Birkhead, associate director of public information for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, told Newsday in a statement Thursday that an outbreak of HPAI was confirmed in a flock of upland game birds in Suffolk County on March 25. However, she said, “for confidentiality reasons, we only release to the county level and do not name the farm.”
“The Department is working closely with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on a joint incident response and is also collaborating with partners at the Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation,” Birkhead said in the statement.
Rick Coker, a spokesman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the agency could not provide the location of where HPAI was detected because of the Privacy Act.
Coker pointed to a recent statement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating the recent HPAI detections do not present an immediate public health concern and that no human cases of bird flu have been detected in the United States.
A complete list of confirmed cases in commercial and backyard flocks is available on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's website, www.aphis.usda.gov.
John Di Leonardo, president of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION), an animal advocacy group in Riverhead, was critical of how commercial farms could potentially create breeding grounds for viruses.
"LION is urging the public to help animals and stop the next pandemic," Di Leonardo said, "by leaving animals off their plates and condemning hunting ranches like Spring Farm that threaten the health and safety of humans and birds alike."