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Amidst Bird Flu Epidemic on Corporate Farms, GOP Spinster Says Backyard Chickens Dangerous

Bird flu has broken out at six farms supplying corporate turkey processor Dakota Provisions, resulting in the euthanization of hundreds of thousands of birds. Laying hens in egg factories and commercially raised pheasants can also catch and spread bird flu.

Writing large its pro-corporate, anti-small-farm bias, the GOP spin blog remains silent about the hazards of bird flu until it can pin the danger on one of its preferred whipping boys, backyard chickens:

I know I’ve mentioned this every time I’ve written about it, but KELOland news is the first Mainstream Media source who is also noting that those cute chickens in your backyard who give you eggs could be bird-flu vectors [Pat Powers, “Backyard Chickens Confirmed by KELO as Bird-Flu Vectors,” Dakota War College, 2015.04.28].

Powers has a long record of opposing backyard agriculture because of his perception that increasing one’s food self-sufficiency is just some liberal fad. He dangles this KELO story—which, beyond Pat’s selective snippage, emphasizes that the threat comes from migratory birds, talks to a backyard chickeneer who suggests he can keep his birds healthy through good feeding and watering, and says turkeys are more susceptible to bird flu than chickens—as a reason to oppose backyard poultry. But as usual, Powers fails to cross-apply his logic and call for a ban on the giant turkey farms where all of the bird flu in South Dakota is taking place.

To put the problem in perspective with evidence (a phrase you’ll never hear used properly by Powers), let’s review the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service list of avian influenza outbreaks. The Pacific Northwest had a bird flu outbreak over the winter reported mostly among backyard flocks ranging in size from 30 birds to 5,830. Excluding that largest “backyard” operation, the average size of the backyard flocks affected was about 160. Urban chicken advocates in Brookings were talking about having six hens.

In the current outbreak in the Central and Mississippi regions, 69 out of 73 confirmed occurrences of bird flu have been on commercial poultry farms, almost entirely among turkeys. USDA-APHIS reports 285,900 bird flu vectors in South Dakota, all at those six commercial turkey plants. The nearest backyard outbreak confirmed so far came at a Pipestone backyard operation with 150 “mixed poultry.” The 233 backyard birds involved in this region’s current avian flu outbreak constitute 0.0026% of the 8.9 million birds affected, or 1 out of 38,000 birds.

If Powers is worried about six bird flu vectors in his neighbor’s backyard, he should be positively apoplectic at the prospect of six million bird flu vectors in the giant egg factory Peter Sonstegaard wants to build in the City of Parker’s backyard. But you won’t hear that from Pat. You won’t hear an honest discussion of animal epidemiology, sanitation on crowded corporate farms, or the fact that amidst these millions of suspect birds, not one human has caught bird flu. No, you’ll just hear hysterical misreadings of the popular press used to reassure himself and his cackling readers that their virulent hatred of things they’ve labeled liberal is perfectly healthy.


  1. Daniel Buresh 2015-04-28

    It’s possible, but unlikely. On a similar note, in my hometown it is an unwritten rule that you can’t grow potatoes in your garden. We have a high susceptibility to blight in the area and we have a large number of potato farmers who supply many companies that make your french fries and potato chips. In return for not growing your own potatoes, you can stop at anyone of the potato warehouses and they will give you all the free potatoes you want.

  2. larry kurtz 2015-04-28

    Powers is a dis-ease vector.

  3. Roger 2015-04-28

    When they scramble the black helicopters to come and poach my five hens, it won’t be over easy! In fact it broils my hide that the big layers hate competition so much that they want to fry the little stew pot! ugg! it makes me crispy!

  4. larry kurtz 2015-04-28

    Buresh on Powers: “Dumbest article ever. As a [R]epublican, you make us all look like fools.”

    Buresh on Thune: “Thune is acting like a moron. So they stop burning when it is needed and a much larger fire happens…..Let me guess: you’ll look to the feds for monetary support.”

    Priceless, DB.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28

    Free potatoes! Interesting, Dan. I wonder: would our poultry producers offer a similar deal to backyard poultry growers? Of course, in this situation, the threat to our factory poultry and egg growers appears to be migratory birds, not backyard hens.

  6. larry kurtz 2015-04-28

    Cory, if I may: we have 21 chickens who freely interact with Eurasian collared doves who are crowding out the native mourning doves. The chickens are exposed to the flu every year, hack for a couple of days, shake it off and lay eggs. They are allowed to roam freely around the yard to forage for bugs and grubs for about an hour before sunset nearly every day, have never been given antibiotics which are useless against viruses anyway.

    Caged animals are especially susceptible to infections as we would expect under industrial conditions and South Dakota winters are brutal for backyard chickens making me ambivalent about your state’s efforts to allow them in neighborhoods.

  7. larry kurtz 2015-04-28

    Too good: Powers deleted DB’s remarks.

  8. Nick Nemec 2015-04-28

    It stands to reason that birds in confined, over crowded conditions are more susceptible to disease. A few birds scratching around the back yard aren’t going to cause problems.

    Powers tries to come across as an expert on all issues, he doesn’t know anything about agriculture and I’ll bet can barely tell one crop from another.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28

    Pretty much, Nick. He just pastes words together, hoping a few vague ideas stick to make his case, whatever his case is.

    I spout off about ag and health issues about which I am far from an expert, but I’ll at least try to offer some evidence from experts.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28

    Daniel Buresh, can we get confirmation that the comments attributed to you and apparently since deleted from the DWC comment section were yours? If so, can you expand on your motivation for making that comment?

  11. Daniel Buresh 2015-04-28

    Yeah they were. I can’t wait to run into Pat Powers someday. That guy must be a complete moron. This guy is supposed to be for the GOP? I’ll be sure to let any of the politicians i speak with know that they should never even acknowledge this fool. That was my first two comments ever on that blog and they will be my last. If you are reading this Pat Powers, please send me an email at I’d love to hear your reasoning of censorship and who is paying your bills. I will do my best to undermine your credibility at every chance I get.

    I have no problem with advocates for the party, but at least keep an open playing field and don’t act like a hack. This guy does more harm than good.

  12. Roger Cornelius 2015-04-28


    I wear my banishment from the Powers Dump Site as a badge of honor, I’m pretty sure Larry Kurtz might feel the same way.


    You could do like Sibson and whine daily about Cory banning him.

  13. Roger Cornelius 2015-04-28

    Powers at the Dump Site knowledge of chickens is limited to what comes out of their butt, and I’m not talking about eggs.

  14. Roger Cornelius 2015-04-28

    One more thing about the Powers Dump Site, I haven’t yet decided which is slower, loading the blog page or the blogger.

  15. Kurt Evans 2015-04-28

    Roger Cornelius wrote:
    >“You could do like Sibson and whine daily about Cory banning him.”

    I know from experience that Cory doesn’t block comments just because he disagrees with them, and I know from experience that Powers does.

  16. Nick Nemec 2015-04-28

    While Sibson would occasionally provide relevant insights to the conversations I think he was banned here for continually hijacking unrelated threads and luring people to debate his favorite topic, abortion. That boy could make any topic about abortion, hijacking this bird flu thread would be child’s play for him. He is a troll without peer.

  17. rwb 2015-04-28

    Thanks for allowing me a few comments:

    First – Cory I wish you would stop calling Powers a “spinster” and call him a “sphincter,” a term which describes him far more accurately.

    Second – Powers is wrong about nearly every point he tries to make. Some might call him stupid or intellectually lazy or ignorant or maleficent, but I choose to believe that he can’t help it – much like there is a hormone imbalance or a bone pressing on the reasoning sector of his brain or something of that nature.

    I, too have been banished from his site, much because I relentlessly hammered him when he claimed to be a “journalist” and mercilessly pounded him on being able to hog down a LOT of food at the little Brookings Chinese buffet (and, I believe, for calling out Troy Jones on a daily basis as a dogmatist and serial pontificator.)

    BUT – I have found a new way to enjoin the battle and vow to bring truth and justice back to Powers’ fake blog.

  18. Mike Quinlivan 2015-04-28

    Ah yes, the banned list. Hell, I was never even off topic. I just blew a few holes in Phat Phuc’s shakey “journalism” and was simply unable to ever post again. Got the banned IP address.

  19. Sam@ 2015-04-28

    As much as I dislike Powers I must give him credit on this one. THe back yard flocks for the most part do not test for the disease and are not reporting their mortaility. This disease come over from China by what is belived to be the migration of wild bird. Guess what most chickens in China are back yard flocks. Back yard flocks can be the spreaders of the disease.

  20. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-28

    Mr. Buresh, do you live in Clark County? I lived in Henry a few decades past when I was teaching school. In the fall we had migrant Central and South American students whose families’ were harvesting spuds. At that time I saw people on foot following the harvesting machinery, picking the potatoes that were left on the ground. I was told that they were allowed to keep these spuds. Is that still the case? Is that big processing plant on the east side of town north of 212 open?

  21. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-28

    Regarding chickens, as others have reiterated, urban chickens have played 0 – zero – ZERO – none, role in this bird flu epidemic. The role of the average farm flock, not corporate/industrial flocks, is negligible.

    None of that is news to PP. He’s the version of Faux Nooz SD has been inflicted/infected with. PP is SD’s own, personal version of Nooz Flue!


  22. grudznick 2015-04-28

    Imagine a world where all the taters you could eat were free!
    Mr. rwb, I think the courts say that Mr. PP is a journalist. I don’t think he is, but it’s not the first time the courts and I have agreed, eh Bob?

  23. Daniel Buresh 2015-04-28

    I’m from northern ND. They have a huge Simplot plant in Grand Forks that makes a majority of the french fries that you find in most fast food joints. A lot of the farming operations had contracts with Lays potato chip company. You could always pick up taters from the fields after the harvester rolled through, but you really didn’t have to. They would grade all the potatoes and there would be piles of ugly but still perfectly edible potatoes. Otherwise, they would let you pull them off the piles in the cold storage buildings. I actually had my first job for a potato farmer at the age of 12, along with a few others my age. We sat on the back of an 8 row planter in fixed boat seats, cutting spuds and dropping them in the hole as the seeder moved along at less than 1 mph. I could make about 5k in a couple of weeks. That was a lot of money for a 12 yr old. Looking back at it it was dangerous as all heck. We covered our legs with duct tape and used that as a cutting board. One slip of the knife and you would know it. Not to mention, if you fell down you would have a disc rolling over you that would push the dirt back into a pile over the row. They paid in cash and I remember asking the owner about why they used child labor. They said they couldn’t keep workers around to do it. By 13, I was filling molds with sand in a iron casting factory where the air was thick with black silica sand. I stood roughly 30 feet from two furnaces that contained tons of molten iron. I still haven’t figured out how none of that was ever caught. I had a rather interesting childhood.

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28

    $5K in two weeks?! Wow! And the farmers still couldn’t keep workers with those wages?

  25. Daniel Buresh 2015-04-28

    They would get the workers for a week and then they got paid and never came back. Many people did work potatoes during the busy time for the extra money but many couldn’t get off work for those couple weeks of good pay.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28

    But Sam, do we have any evidence that the backyard flocks are spreading the disease here? And even if some alarm at the possibility of backyard vectors is warranted, should not the corporate farms with many more birds arouse proportionately greater concern?

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28

    And Daniel, thank you for that confirmation. My worldview is feeling healthily shaken to know that you, a guy who comes here and gives me regular heck, can so strongly and categorically dismiss Pat’s blogging. I sincerely hope you will speak with the Republicans you know and explain to them how Powers is damaging their brand with his foolishness. If the Republicans are going to sponsor a blog, they should at least sponsor one that makes good arguments, that does not fear commenters who challenge their dogma, and that engages as a collaborating partner in the South Dakota Blogosphere.

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28

    Lest I get distracted by all this Powers nonsense, Larry makes a really important point, which seems to back up what Ty Kaiser says in the KELO report: backyard chickens raised in healthy, uncrowded conditions can recover from the flu. Curious, Larry: can you tell if that flu was the mild form or the nasty form?

    Larry is right to wonder whether South Dakota backyarders can effectively replicate the healthy conditions under which his birds make eggs and meat and cough off their flu. What Sam says about the risks in backyard flocks has some merit; this FAQ sheet says avian influenza arose in Asia among less sanitary domestic flocks rather than the corporate farms with more strict hygiene. But now we are getting to much more valid concerns based on science rather than Pat’s one-off “KELO says I’m right!” post.

  29. Roger Cornelius 2015-04-28

    There just maybe enough of us here that have been banned by Powers Dump Site for being “off topic” to form some kind of a club or secret society.

    We could meet monthly at Pat’s favorite Chinese buffet.

  30. Jana 2015-04-28

    Oh Cory, I wouldn’t worry about PP and the Pity Party Blog.

    He is proving himself to be irrelevant and nothing more than a place to post press releases that no true media outlet would pick up. I looked up ‘Lack of Substance’ online and his so-called-blog was pictured.

  31. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-28

    Hahahahahahahaha! Roger, that’s a great suggestion. How about an annual reunion too, for those who must attend from farther away?

    I’m not a member at present. I’d have to go over there first, and risk contamination. Eeeeuwww. I’d rather have bird flu.

  32. rwb 2015-04-28

    Deb, just go over there and post something that’s true. That’s a surefire way to take the “exit the hard way.”

  33. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28

    Don’t do it, Deb! You are a vector for intelligent, fact-based conversation, and DWC is terrified of that malady.

  34. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-29

    I’ll try to resist the lure, nauseating as it may be, of the Dump Site, as Larry has so aptly named it.

    I read the link to the “backyard” flock. I don’t understand what their criteria for “backyard” is. There were 178 fowl of different varieties! 178! We didn’t have that many birds on the farm, but we had enough to provide eggs for 6 obnoxious and ravenous children with extra eggs to sell.

    178 is a Big Flock on a farm whose primary income does not derive from them. Or maybe its just that the birds are free range or not corporate. Most of all, it sounds like a definition that favors the major, industrial egg producers.

  35. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-29

    Right, Sam, as I acknowledged in my report of the APHIS data and of the fact that backyard birds constitute 0.0026% of the cases. What’s the point? Are you trying to support Pat’s position that we should freak out over backyard poultry yet not blink at giant poultry and egg factories?

  36. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-29

    And yes, as Deb says, the backyard flocks in which bird flu has been confirmed appear to be irrelevant to the debate in Brookings over letting people keep six laying hens.

  37. barry freed 2015-04-29

    The last I knew, a Bill to outlaw private ownership of chickens has been offered, and is offered, in Congress every year.
    The food factories have one bird, 200,000 times. They are test tube chickens, my Sears Best ™ SR-250’s were great birds. The bio-engineered hens were red and laid brown eggs so large they were over two and a half pounds per dozen and the cartons would not close properly. The roosters were white for easier plucking and weighed 6 pounds. But being a flock that is one bird, one bad germ can kill the whole flock. Never did mine, but the SR-250’s were soon crossed in my free love, hippie chicken commune with Polish, Banty, Aracona, and Blue Cochins (yes, sky blue chickens). I have written of my special pet Cochin, Felicity, her love of popcorn, and her farm friends. It may sound crazy, but Chickens can have personality.
    They removed the tic-tac-toe chicken from Reptile Gardens. They say it was due to the public perception of an over worked chicken, though it was really more than one working shifts in the booth. I say it is because those bad birds were cheaters, taking my money every time.
    Backyard chickens are doing as nature intended. Catching colds and recovering making the flock healthier in the long run. They can ban private ownership of chickens, but they can’t make migratory birds stay away. They will fly over you and do what ducks and geese do best.

  38. Nick Nemec 2015-04-29

    Back in the day, when both of my grandmothers had backyard flocks of chickens on the farm if a chicken looked a little under the weather grandma would quickly dispatch them the hatchet and grandpa would have chicken noodle soup for supper.

  39. Lynn 2015-04-29

    I realize taste is subjective but when I’ve enjoyed a nice chicken dinner from chickens that were able to live their lives as actual chickens like Larry mentioned or out in the farmyard they were so delicious compared to factory farm raised. The texture is different also from being more muscular living more natural lives. Probably better for us too.


    Would Sears have rebranded those chickens Sears Craftsman Chickens “Made to Make” today?

  40. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-29

    Wait, Lynn: are you and MinnPost telling us that the ducks and geese are being framed?

  41. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-29

    Oh yeah, independent farmers’ chickens are much different from Jennie-O and Goldn Plump packages in big box grocery stores. These chickens are muscular and the meat is darker. I mean the white meat is not pasty-colored, the dark meat really is, and none of the meat is squishy. Plus, it has flavor! Woo-hoo!

  42. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-29

    In MN we get Amish chicken in farmersmarkets and you better get there Early or it is gone. I think similar chicken in SD probably comes from Hutterites. Right?

  43. mike from iowa 2022-03-20

    Buena vista county iowa has second known outbreak of new avian flu and 5.3 million laying hens will be slaughtered and likely incinerated. The other outbreak involved tens of thousands of turkeys. BV co is adjacent to Obrien co’s SE border. Look for egg and poultry prices to rise precipitously and hear magats blame Biden.

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