State to euthanize about 80 sanctuary farm birds after avian flu deaths

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Bill and Brendena Fleming in front of their home at 56 Tsienneto Road in Derry, in January 2019. Photo/Ryan Lessard

DERRY, NH – The owners of an antique farmhouse and small animal sanctuary at 56 Tsienneto Road in Derry say five of their turkeys dropped dead from avian flu and now the state is intent on euthanizing the rest. 

“Our family is devastated by this,” said homeowner Brendena Fleming.

After a visit by the State Veterinarian and police Thursday afternoon, Fleming said she was told they will return Friday morning at 8 a.m. to begin the euthanizations. In all, Fleming estimates she has about 80 poultry birds on the farm, mostly rescues.

Fleming said her 11-year-old son first discovered their beloved black turkey named Dandelion dead on Sunday. Over the next two days, Flemming found four more turkeys had died.

Brendena Fleming cuddles with Wafer the duck, which was dumped as a duckling at a pond in Lynn, MA. “He was a baby when he found his way to us,” said Fleming. Wafer is one of the birds scheduled for euthanasia by the state.

Fleming called the office of the State Veterinarian. She said Assistant State Veterinarian Nathan Harvey came to retrieve the bodies and tested them at a University of New Hampshire lab, where results came back positive for avian flu. 

That’s when Harvey told Fleming they would need to euthanize her remaining flock of poultry, which include two remaining turkeys, several chickens, ducks and geese. 

“This is going to be and is such a traumatic experience for all of us,” Fleming said in a written statement Thursday.

Dandelion the turkey was found dead Sunday at the Derry sanctuary he called home. An autopsy showed that the bird died of avian flu. Courtesy Photo

Fleming said she was notified of the positive avian flu results Wednesday night at about 9 p.m. and was asked by the State Vet how the family would prefer the rest of their birds be killed. They were given until noon Thursday to decide, Fleming said. She said if it had to happen, she would prefer it be done humanely at an off-site facility.

However, on Thursday she was informed that the birds would be euthanized on site.

Fleming said as word has circulated, the community has showed compassion for her doomed flock.

“A couple people stopped by tonight with, muffins, flowers, a sign and ribbons.  I hugged everyone and said my goodbyes, and thank-yous, and prayed for them.  Everyone has a story of where they came from.  I reached out to as many of the prior owners as I could and apologized,” Fleming said.

A sign posted at Pumpkin Wall Farm Animal Sanctuary on Thursday, bidding the birds a final farewell.

She said her farm is a 501(c)3 nonprofit called Pumpkin Wall Farm Animal Sanctuary. Its mission is to take in agricultural birds and other animals who need a forever home and give them plenty of space to live. 

They also invite children and adults to interact with some of the animals for animal therapy. The Flemings have four children, ages 7 to 11. 

Officials at the State Veterinarian’s office, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

“There is nothing I did wrong or anything I could have done differently to prevent this,” Fleming said.

For the first time since 2016 the avian flu has been found in wild birds in the United States, and the first time ever it’s been detected north of Delaware. The Eurasian H5 strain of avian flu was detected in wild birds in Rockingham County in February, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game. 


Assistant State Veterinarian Nathan Harvey informed the Flemings their remaining flock of rescued birds, including two remaining turkeys, several chickens, ducks and geese, must be euthanized. Courtesy Photos

It is believed the disease was transmitted by wild ducks who frequent a pond next to the Derry farm. Fleming said the situation was not preventable, and suspects other farms won’t report suspicious poultry deaths to the state for fear of wholesale euthanization.

“So many people won’t report deaths because they don’t want to have done to them what they are doing to me,” Fleming said. “Which contributes to the problem.”

She said she thinks the euthanization will do little to stop the spread since the wild ducks are continuing to spread it unimpeded. And the remaining birds have not exhibited any signs of sickness, according to Fleming.

Fleming said she has reached out to attorneys to try to fight this, but so far hasn’t found anyone to take the case.

A yellow ribbon tied to a tree on Pumpkin Wall Farm, where Brendana Flemings’ flock of rescued birds will be euthanized due to avian flu.


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Ryan Lessard

Ryan Lessard is a freelance reporter.