Keeping bird flu at bay
There’s no substitute for biosecurity
Global outbreaks of bird flu, including the worst ever in US history, has sharpened the focus of producers, governments and consumers on the disease – and what steps to take to protect flocks and the industry.
Various mutations of the AI virus led to infections in many countries, and it is generally accepted that the virus has settled in wild bird populations. This means that the risk of infections reoccurring is very high indeed, and potential outbreaks can happen anytime, anywhere, without any warning.
“We encountered the worst animal disease outbreak in US history, in which we lost the birds of 223 companies,” said United Egg Producers’ Chad Gregory. “In hindsight, we learnt many lessons, ranging from measures to ensure faster depopulation and better organised disposal of dead birds to vaccination and, of course, improved biosecurity and the issue of sharing crews and equipment between farms.” The inability to keep ahead of the virus spread was a problem faced by United Egg, whose Chairman Jim Dean reported losses of around 5.5 million birds.
“The virus spread further since we couldn’t cull birds fast enough. With the virus source not under control, we saw other farms become infected,” he said, adding that
even before infection of the first farm, many biosecurity measures were in place.
“That said, we learnt expensive lessons. The first and foremost is ‘Trust, but verify!’ For example, for years we had the rule that our workers couldn’t enter a facility within 72 hours after being in contact with other poultry. When we resigned the agreement, the crew company said they would have to charge us extra to comply with this rule, saying that they thought the rule wasn’t mandatory before.” Farm biosecurity is all about properly designed protocols, their comprehensive and rigorous implementation, and being prepared for the worst.
“Biosecurity keeps out Avian Influenza as well as all kinds of pathogens, viruses and bacteria that can be kept at bay with strict hygiene,” says Andrew Joret of the British Egg Producing Council, who often challenges farmers to imagine the perfect model farm with perfect human and animal movements. Joret says producers can learn a lot this way, which can lead to changes in an existing situation.
“A model farm wouldn’t be built near open water or other poultry concentrations, it would have a perimeter fence with only one entry point with a barrier, parking outside and disinfecting facilities. The farm would have a single age system and the building would be tight and chickens would be indoors.” He adds that restricting the number of visitors will cost nothing, while having employees park outside the farm to prevent ‘dirty’ vehicles from entering the farm grounds will be inexpensive. Disinfecting the few vehicles that are allowed on farms will not be costly either.
“And why should you allow the feed truck to enter? Supplying the house from outside the fence is a possibility too. And what about service personnel? Do you allow them to bring their own tools and toolbox, which could have been at another farm as well? Or do you invest in farm-owned tools?”
With bird flu present in the direct environment of the world’s poultry population, preventing the AI virus from entering the house requires maximum attention, using trusted and verified best practices.¡