Avian Flu-Free, Fingers Crossed

Avian Flu-Free, Fingers Crossed
Chickens on Cooks Venture's 800-acre farm in Benton County.

Cooks Venture, which raises hardy free-ranging chickens at the old Peterson Farms grounds in Decatur (Benton County), has a CEO who’s exhaling again after the threat of avian flu had Arkansas poultry producers holding their breath just weeks ago.

A nationwide outbreak infected nearly 40 million birds and afflicted 300 flocks in 35 states, but the disease never crossed into Arkansas, where chicken, of course, is big business. The state ranks third in broiler production, and poultry in 2020 provided $3.7 billion in Arkansas agricultural cash receipts, about half the state’s total.

Matthew Wadiak, the Cooks Venture CEO and a co-founder of the meal delivery company Blue Apron, said he was grateful that hot weather had helped corral the virus. “Thankfully Arkansas was able to totally avoid any HPAI,” Wadiak told Whispers last week, referring to highly pathogenic avian influenza.

An Arkansas Department of Agriculture flu emergency will continue through mid-July, but optimism is rising. Restrictions included keeping free-range flocks under a roof or inside a structure to prevent chickens from any contact with infected migratory birds or their droppings.

Cooks Venture, billing itself as a next-generation agricultural company, processes its heirloom birds at a production facility in Jay, Oklahoma, about 25 miles northwest of Decatur.

“We continue to grow quickly,” Wadiak said. “The birds are great, and we’re continuing to expand our team and national footprint as the only vertical independent genetics and broiler company” in the United States.

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