Bird flu pre­cau­tions

Spe­cial re­port on DE­FRA mea­sures and ad­vice

Your Chickens - - Contents -

It’s not ev­ery day that poul­try makes it onto the na­tional news. On De­cem­ber 7, the Chief Vet was on the Ra­dio 4 To­day pro­gramme to an­nounce that, due to out­breaks of a highly path­o­genic strain of avian in­fluenza (AI) which is sweep­ing across Europe, DE­FRA had de­clared a pre­cau­tion­ary ‘pre­ven­tion zone’. This or­der re­quired all poul­try and cap­tive birds to be kept in­doors for 30 days in or­der to re­duce the risk of pos­si­ble in­fec­tion oc­cur­ring from do­mes­ti­cated birds com­ing into con­tact with in­fected mi­gra­tory wild birds. Ini­tially this only im­pacted Eng­land, but within days Wales and Scot­land quickly fol­lowed suit and the zone be­came UK wide.

It had been on the cards. I had been fol­low­ing the dis­cus­sions tak­ing place be­tween the au­thor­i­ties and the in­dus­try dur­ing the au­tumn and I re­call the spec­tre of AI hov­er­ing over the coun­try a decade ago. The im­pact that had still res­onates, but for me it is not so much from an in­dus­try per­spec­tive, but from that of the back­yarder and small­holder.

I haven’t done the maths, but I sus­pect that around 98% of the poul­try in the UK is owned by 2% of the poul­try keep­ers and, as such, a large el­e­ment of the risk can be man­aged with a plan that works for a small mi­nor­ity of keep­ers. Con­versely, around 98% of poul­try keep­ers own 2% of the poul­try, and these are dis­persed and rel­a­tively un­reg­u­lated and un­mon­i­tored.

We are pre­dom­i­nantly free rangers who view a chicken coop as a place where the birds roost and lay their eggs as op­posed to a build­ing where the flock can be con­tained for 30 days – and there lies the crux of the mat­ter. Pre­cau­tion­ary pre­ven­tion zones are sen­si­ble and far more de­sir­able than an out­break and the sub­se­quent in­dis­crim­i­nate de­struc­tion of birds that fall within that bio­haz­ard zone, and I sus­pect that if the ac­tion is suc­cess­ful (mea­sured on the ba­sis of no in­fec­tion oc­cur­ring whilst the or­der is in place) then they will be­come a more fre­quent oc­cur­rence.

Com­mer­cial keep­ers of thou­sands of birds have the ca­pac­ity to con­tain their flocks in sheds, and this is gen­er­ally agreed as a fea­si­ble ap­proach – but what of the small-scale keeper?


DE­FRA says: “The Pre­ven­tion Zone re­quires all poul­try and cap­tive birds, in­clud­ing back­yard flocks and other cap­tive birds, to be housed or, where it is not prac­ti­ca­ble to do so, re­quires

steps to be taken to keep them sep­a­rate from wild birds. If you keep your birds near your home, con­sider hous­ing them in al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion, such as a gar­den build­ing, a garage or re­dun­dant build­ing that could be adapted to house your birds tem­po­rar­ily.”

This is sound ad­vice for those who have such build­ings and DE­FRA went on to say: “Re­mem­ber to check for, and re­move, haz­ardous and toxic sub­stances such as rat bait, and make sure the birds have ac­cess to water and some­where to perch. You must also prac­tice good biose­cu­rity – for ex­am­ple, dis­in­fect­ing footwear and equip­ment and wash­ing cloth­ing af­ter con­tact with birds.”

Victoria Roberts, one of Bri­tain’s lead­ing poul­try vets, and fel­low Coun­try Small­hold­ing and Your Chick­ens con­trib­u­tor, when asked what ac­tion small­hold­ers and back gar­den poul­try keep­ers should take, said: “In its most prag­matic terms, ‘in­doors’ means pro­tec­tion from wild bird fae­ces, so a cov­ered run is bet­ter wel­fare for chick­ens than be­ing shut in a dark shed. Free range hens will need en­ter­tain­ment if sud­denly con­fined, such as branches for ex­tra perch­ing, veg­eta­bles hung up etc. to avoid con­flict.”

One Twit­ter user asked if wire mesh over the top of the run would be enough to keep her flock safe. I re­minded her that bird fae­ces would still be able to drop through the mesh and that a tar­pau­lin cover would prevent this, but to en­sure it had slight tilt on it so that rain (and snow) could run off safely and away from the flock un­der­neath.

Victoria has also echoed this point adding: “The birds need to be kept in the hen hut un­til the keeper can con­struct a makeshift run that is cov­ered.”

It is ul­ti­mately a case of com­mon sense as this dis­ease is no dif­fer­ent than many in that it is spread through: Move­ment of poul­try, peo­ple, ve­hi­cles and equip­ment be­tween and within lo­ca­tions; The in­tro­duc­tion of birds of poor or un­known health sta­tus; Con­tact with other flocks; Us­ing shared equip­ment and ve­hi­cles, which have not been ef­fec­tively cleansed and dis­in­fected; Con­tact with ver­min or wild birds; Birds drink­ing from con­tam­i­nated water sources; Birds eat­ing con­tam­i­nated feed; Un­sat­is­fac­tory cleans­ing and dis­in­fec­tion of ve­hi­cles, sheds, feed­ing troughs and other equip­ment.


The ob­jec­tive there­fore is to re­move, or at least dra­mat­i­cally re­duce, the risk of your flock com­ing into con­tact with wild birds or their fae­ces. Here are some spe­cific con­sid­er­a­tions for when a pre­ven­tion zone is in­voked.

Keep the flock in­doors – if this is pos­si­ble then it is the eas­i­est op­tion but ob­serve the wel­fare needs of the birds closely by in­creas­ing your clean­ing regime, pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional items of in­ter­est for your flock, and ob­serv­ing a tight biose­cu­rity plan to re­duce the risk of in­fec­tion be­ing car­ried into the hous­ing. Any pro­posed build­ing must also take into ac­count the im­por­tance of ad­e­quate ven­ti­la­tion.

Keep the flock runs cov­ered – per­ma­nent in­door hous­ing might not be pos­si­ble in which case a cover over the run is needed. Small gauge mesh will only stop birds from en­ter­ing the run and, whilst bet­ter than noth­ing, a solid cover is far su­pe­rior at re­duc­ing the risk. Con­sider erect­ing a solid lean-to on the side of ex­ist­ing houses, this could be a fence pan­elling for ex­am­ple, or adapt­ing a fruit cage us­ing tar­pau­lin. Cre­at­ing tem­po­rary out­door pens us­ing straw bales and a tar­pau­lin roof with small gaps for light and ven­ti­la­tion is an­other op­tion. Be aware, though, if bad weather is likely to be a prob­lem, it may be nec­es­sary to erect a wind­break around your struc­ture.

Keep move­able coops in the same place – if your birds are housed in move­able arks or trac­tor units then don’t be tempted to move the house to fresh ground. This will sim­ply in­crease the pos­si­bil­ity of your flock com­ing into con­tact with wild bird fae­ces.

Keep your ac­cess to the hous­ing and run area to a min­i­mum – you will then re­duce the risk of you con­tam­i­nat­ing the area with wild bird fae­ces you may have come into con­tact with else­where on your prop­erty

Keep your equip­ment clean – use dis­in­fec­tant such as Virkon to keep equip­ment and footwear clean, and en­sure the cloth­ing you use when work­ing with your poul­try is washed af­ter con­tact with birds.

Keep feed and water out of the reach of wild birds – make sure drinkers are un­der cover and ide­ally put feed­ers in the coop. Avoid plac­ing water in the house un­less you are us­ing nip­ple drinkers; reg­u­lar drinkers will get knocked over in any skir­mishes. Keep your birds con­tained – avoid un­nec­es­sary han­dling and move­ment of

your birds on or off site, and where prac­ti­cal avoid vis­it­ing other poul­try-keep­ing es­tab­lish­ments to re­duce any pos­si­bil­ity of cross con­tam­i­na­tion.

Keep a close eye on your poul­try – if you have any signs of ill­ness then seek ad­vice from a qual­i­fied vet.

Jan­uary 6 is when the re­stric­tions are due to be lifted, but time will tell if the pre-emp­tive ac­tion has paid div­i­dends, but, more­over, whether all of the UK’s poul­try keep­ers have con­formed and made their con­tri­bu­tion to keep­ing the UK bird flu free.


There are two types of avian in­fluenza.

Highly path­o­genic avian in­fluenza (HPAI) is the more se­ri­ous type. It is of­ten fa­tal in birds. The main clin­i­cal signs of HPAI in birds are: Swollen head Blue dis­coloura­tion of neck and throat Loss of ap­petite Res­pi­ra­tory dis­tress such as gap­ing beak, cough­ing, sneez­ing, gur­gling, rat­tling Di­ar­rhoea Fewer eggs laid In­creased mor­tal­ity

Clin­i­cal signs can vary be­tween species of bird and some species may show min­i­mal clin­i­cal signs (eg ducks and geese).

Low path­o­genic avian in­fluenza (LPAI) is usu­ally less se­ri­ous. It can cause mild breath­ing prob­lems, but af­fected birds will not al­ways show clear signs of in­fec­tion. The sever­ity of LPAI de­pends on the type of bird and whether it has any other ill­nesses.


The dis­ease spreads from bird to bird by di­rect con­tact or through con­tam­i­nated body flu­ids and fae­ces. The virus changes fre­quently, cre­at­ing new strains, and there is a con­stant risk that one of the new strains may spread eas­ily among peo­ple. There is no ev­i­dence that any re­cent strain of avian in­fluenza has been able to spread di­rectly be­tween peo­ple. Avian in­fluenza isn’t an air­borne dis­ease.


Un­der the 30-day hous­ing re­stric­tion, birds and eggs will still be con­sid­ered free range provided they meet all other re­quire­ments. Declar­ing a Pre­ven­tion Zone means birds can be housed for up to 12 weeks and still main­tain their free range sta­tus. The 12 week limit ap­plies to in­di­vid­ual birds/batches not premises as a whole.


There are cer­tain species of bird – such as os­trich, cap­tive wild­fowl or geese, which are not nor­mally housed – for which the hous­ing steps out­lined above may not be prac­ti­ca­ble. In such cases you should iso­late their food and water from wild birds. Avail­able feed and water will at­tract wild birds; by feed­ing and wa­ter­ing your birds un­der cover, the pos­si­bil­ity of min­gling is re­duced. The steps you should take, where prac­ti­cal, in­clude: Pro­vid­ing ex­tra pro­tec­tion to feed and water sta­tions. Ro­tat­ing feed­ing times. Many wild birds learn when cap­tive birds are fed and con­gre­gate at these times. Pre­vent­ing your birds from ac­cess­ing open water that may be con­tam­i­nated. En­sure that your birds re­ceive only mains or treated water, or en­sure that reser­voirs or stor­age tanks are cov­ered. Sealed nip­ple sys­tems can be con­sid­ered.

A poly­tun­nel can be handy as a tem­po­rary poul­try shel­ter at this time of year

These birds have been given space in a fruit cage

Needs must .... these hens have some un­usual com­pan­ions

These tur­keys were given refuge in a barn

All do­mes­tic poul­try is at risk

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