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VIDEO: Bird flu - Facts to help protect your backyard poultry flock

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As Avian Influenza (AI) continues to sweep the nation, Lauren Dean takes a look at how backyard flock keepers can best protect their poultry from outbreak.

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Bird flu: Facts to help protect your backyard poultry flock

Earlier this month Defra confirmed communication with all poultry keepers had been ’difficult’ following outbreaks in two small backyard flocks in Carmarthenshire, Wales and Settle, North Yorkshire.


It came following a recent slam from environment secretary Andrea Leadsom who suggested the widening threat of the avian influenza H5N8 strand was because backyard poultry keepers were failing to follow safety rules.


But as backyard keepers are challenged to change the way they keep their birds in light of increasing small-flock outbreaks, we take a look at Government and poultry expert advice to help keep biosecurity measures up to scratch.

Backyard flock keeper: Rules and regulations

DEFINITION: 'Somebody who keeps birds as a hobby'


The UK-wide poultry housing order, in place until February 28, poses a legal obligation for all birds to be housed: including ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys. The key is to stop contact with wild birds.


NFU chief poultry adviser Gary Ford said a small backyard flock could be defined as somebody who keeps birds as a hobby or somebody who owns them privately. A backyard keeper could also cover other farmers, for example a beef or sheep farmer who has a a handful of birds on their farm: the AI zone prevention order equally applies here.


Government recommendations suggest where possible, birds should be 'moved into a suitable building, such as a shed, outbuilding or garage adapted to house birds'. It also encourages keepers to ensure birds have:

  • enough natural light to read a newspaper
  • an 'interesting' environment with fresh bedding and perches to prevent pecking
  • separate enclosures for different types of birds

No suitable building or housing?

Backyard flock keepers who do not have suitable housing for their birds must take 'sensible precautions' to keep them away from wild birds – particularly waterfowl.


They must also prevent contamination from wild birds by keeping food and water supplies inside – or create a temporary netted enclosure, keep skin, clothes and footwear clean before and after visits and keep the area where birds live 'clean and tidy'.


BVA president Gudrun Ravetz added: "Biosecurity is as important to smallholders and hobby keepers of birds as it is to large scale and commercial poultry keepers. Tight biosecurity, such as maintaining high levels of cleanliness and hygiene and not allowing visitors to come close to your birds, is essential."


Mr Ford also said it 'would not be unreasonable' to ask backyard keepers to buy another hen house to help house birds and separate each specie. Birds including ducks and geese are closely linked to waterfowl and although they can be quite tough with the disease, they run a larger risk of harbouring it and increasing its spread.


He added: "There is a feeling among commercial keepers that backyard keepers are not housing their birds. It causes angst among them when they look over their hedges to see the birds are running free.


"Backyard flocks are at risk of AI but do also pose a risk to other poultry keepers."

NFU North West Poultry Board Chairman shares his advice

Free range produce

UK farming unions have called on European officials to extend the 12-week free range status of poultry affected by the housing order to give certainty the produce will still have a market.
If the compulsory housing order is extended beyond February 28 eggs and poultry meat under the free range label will no longer be allowed to be sold as 'free range' but will be forced under the label of 'barn reared'. The unions have called for a temporary deregation on the indoor housing rule to prevent the 'impending loss' of free range eggs from British supermarkets.




What happens in the event of a poultry cull?

The Poultry Club of Great Britain met with Defra earlier in the month and concluded they had 'no appetite' for compulsory culling within the surveillance or protection zones on infected sites. If on an infected site but not necessarily infected themselves, the department vet will 'properly take into account' whether the birds are listed on the Farm Animal Genetic Resources Committee (FAnGR) 'at risk' list.


Where there is a need for culling, Defra officials confirmed: 'If a cull were to take place and healthy birds were culled, compensation will be paid in accordance with Defra’s schedule for commercial birds'.


Compensation will, however, only be offered for the loss of healthy birds.

Suspicious? What to look for...

The current H5N8 avian influenza is a highly pathogenic strand that can result in high mortality, a reduction in productivity, for example a drop in egg production, and a loss of appetite.


Signs can often also include:

  • swollen heads
  • respiratory problems
  • many birds often looking 'depressed'


Cleansing and disinfection

Outbreaks of avian influenza can cause significant costs to keepers as cleansing, disinfection and secondary cleansing are vital to ensure all traces of infection are eliminated. But this is not the typical flock-by-flock cleansing system and a change in legislation in 2005 now means all cleansing must be paid for by the affected farmer.


All infected sites must be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected under the supervision of the APHA - this includes every area the birds have had access to. IP infected areas are also not legally allowed to restock flock until after secondary cleansing has been completed and signed off by the APHA: but recent instances are typically taking 3-4 months.


"For a poultry keeper this scale of cleansing can be a huge issue," Mr Ford added. "Recent outbreaks have been costing several hundred thousand pounds and it must be remembered, whilst clean up is happening the keeper also has no form of income."

Livestock farmer?

If a beef, sheep or pig farmer finds himself within either the 3km protection zone or the 10km surveillance zone he is forbidden from moving livestock off land if not a holder of a license.


To obtain a license, contact the Worcester APHA office on 0300 020 0301 and request license EXD100. If a license is issued, it will allow a one-off movement and be subject to certain conditions based on disease control risk.


For more information click here.

Small flock keepers webinar

Those who wish to learn more on the current situation of Avian Influenza can join a webinar presentation from Westpoint Farm Vets, in association with Ministry Poultry Vets, in a guide to inform the small flock keeper through continuous updates.


The webinar will take place on Tuesday February 21 at 7.00pm. Registration is free.


For more information visit www.westpointfarmvets.co.uk.

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