By Peg Ballou, NAGA President
Our association has been rocked with news that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has landed at some of our largest farms and oldest hunt clubs. What we’ve been dreading has come to pass. Amazingly, I’m still hearing that some of the clubs and farms we personally supply don’t yet have biosecurity plans or understand the ramifications of outbreaks on their farms.
The NAGA has been publishing articles, sending emails and hosting livestreams about the disease and its effects for more than five years. Our industry no longer has the luxury of thinking “It won’t happen to me/us.” Avian influenza has hit home.
The physical, mental, financial and emotional toll HPAI is taking on those affected is enormous. Owners and spouses are coping with reduced physical and emotional energy and resources. Staff members are affected as well, with some leaving their jobs because they’re overwhelmed by the birds dying. The entire industry, already with a reduced inventory of birds, is stretching resources to the max to fill gaps. The ramifications of HPAI are waves working outward.
How Do We Cope?
- Remember you aren’t alone. Our association is a brotherhood and we are working, even now, to find birds for those affected by the scarcity of birds, and will continue to do so throughout the coming year and into the spring. Evaluate the members you can have on your team. Dig in to your faith, family and friends.
- View this with eternity in mind. This world isn’t all there is, and you need to exercise your faith in the midst of this temporary chaos. This too shall pass — like a kidney stone, maybe, but it will pass.
- Be thankful. Thankfulness for what you have will change your attitude toward what isn’t good. In everything give thanks. Not for everything give thanks, but even in the worst of times there’s something to be thankful for.
- Take care of yourself. You need food, water and sleep. You may be tempted to sit and brood, but getting up and moving will help reduce stress. Exercise with a quiet walk if you can. Get out in the sunshine if possible. Upbeat music and a motivational song or saying can positively change a depressed mental attitude.
- Focus on what you can do. At times when there’s a lot you can’t do, do the next thing. A woman who’d suffered a death in the family sat in a chair, overwhelmed and paralyzed with grief. A quiet neighbor lady came over and started cleaning shoes. No words were spoken — there was just the shushing of the brush on the shoes. Eventually, in the midst of that activity, the grieving woman was motivated to take the first step — getting clothes ready for the trip to the funeral and moving ahead one task at a time.
- Seek help. We’re often our own worst enemies, not seeking help when it could do some good. There are resources for farmers in every state. For example, Minnesota offers a Farm Advocacy Program that can aid farmers in a crisis with financial mediation, legal problems and other challenges. There are mental health support teams and services as well. To access these resources in your state, search online using your state’s name and the keywords “farmers and stress.” The extension service in your state is likely another available resource.
If all else fails, visit Minnesota’s Farm Advocacy Program website at mda.state.mn.us/farmadvocates. They can point you to some helpful resources.
The Minnesota Extension Office held a webinar on this subject with lots of great resources. Visit YouTube for “Make a game plan for HPAI and know who’s on your team”.
- Grieve. Allow yourself to grieve. Losing livestock, with the threat to your livelihood, is akin to a death in the family. Allow yourself to grieve the loss of the dream of a perfect season, solid income or the idyllic concept of life on your farm.
- For long-term care, join a support group. In Ohio we have a program called GriefShare. Call 800-395-5755 or search griefshare.org to find a group near you.
- What’s next? The holidays and the winter season are fast approaching. So, what do you do when it’s not “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”? Minimize the stress of the holidays by toning down the festivities — parties, gifts and celebrations. Don’t be afraid to say no to any obligations that overwhelm your personal reserves. You wouldn’t ask your car to run on no gas, so why run yourself on no emotional energy?
Please know that the North American Gamebird Association leadership is available for you and your needs. While we don’t do a great job bragging about our work, we’ve been working on indemnity values to enable those affected to continue in business financially. We’ve been finding residual birds for those needing replacements due to depopulation. We’ve been in communication with members needing support and care. Please feel free to contact President Peg Ballou (419-563-6899 talk or text) or Executive Director Rob Sexton (email@example.com) for assistance and direction in getting help.