Bird flu: what next?

Spe­cial re­port

Your Chickens - - Contents -

All poul­try in Eng­land was al­lowed out­side again from April 13. The an­nounce­ment by the UK’s Chief Vet­eri­nary Of­fi­cer was ex­cel­lent news, and whilst it does still re­quire all keepers in Eng­land to con­tinue to com­ply with the strict biose­cu­rity mea­sures (see box), and while it does not mean the pre­ven­tion zone is lifted to­tally, many will breathe a sigh of re­lief for what has been a very tough four-and-a-half months. The ban on poul­try gath­er­ings, though, will re­main in force un­til fur­ther no­tice.

My gut feel­ing had been that this would be lifted to­wards the end of April as there had not been any fur­ther cases re­ported in the UK and the in­ten­sity of the prob­lem on the Con­ti­nent was start­ing to wane. How­ever, just be­fore we went to print on April 21, DEFRA said the potential risk as­so­ci­ated with lift­ing the ban on poul­try gath­er­ings is un­der per­ma­nent re­view, and no de­ci­sion had yet been reached as to when the ban would be lifted. This makes me pon­der what the long term im­pact will be.”

Com­mer­cial poul­try and egg pro­duc­ers have not gone

un­scathed de­spite what some might think, but it is a re­silient in­dus­try that will bounce back. It has done so be­fore, and it is al­most as­sured given our ‘re­liance’ upon chickens as a source of pro­tein these days. But that is not to say that some may no longer risk rear­ing poul­try in a free- range man­ner, par­tic­u­larly those in the High Risk Ar­eas (HRAs) that were de­fined dur­ing the most re­cent phase of con­trols.

But what of the small-scale keepers, breed­ers and off gate egg sell­ers? With re­gard to the eggs, I’ve been for­tu­nate. My buy­ers were aware of the bird flu is­sues, were sen­si­tive as to when and how they ob­tained their weekly eggs and have stuck with me as de­spite the in­con­ve­nience. Un­for­tu­nately, the same can­not be said of the breed­ing side of things. I’ve not no­ticed a drop in en­quiries for hatch­ing eggs and birds but the num­ber of times I’ve had to apol­o­gise, say­ing I had noth­ing avail­able at the mo­ment, will surely have a longer term im­pact on that side of my busi­ness.

All the early auc­tions of the year have been can­celled (just as a good num­ber of the ma­jor shows have) be­cause poul­try gath­er­ings were banned. As a con­se­quence, there has been a re­stricted out­let for live­stock or hatch­ing eggs. Lift­ing the ban for the be­gin­ning of May would leave a very nar­row win­dow when nor­mally auc­tions will have been ac­tive for a large part of the first four months of the year.

Hatch­ing for me has been very lim­ited, too, as my hus­bandry tech­niques de­pend upon me be­ing able to get my grow­ers out on to pas­ture as early as pos­si­ble. With the re­stric­tions and en­hanced biose­cu­rity requirements in place dur­ing the early spring, sense has meant I’ve had to hold back.

THE FU­TURE

But what of the fu­ture? What hap­pens if H5N8 re­turns or H5N9 reaches Europe in the autumn of 2017? What if the re­stric­tions are ap­plied again? What if that be­comes an an­nual event, and what will that mean to small-scale sup­pli­ers, keepers and the show scene?

Ev­ery­one’s birds will need to be kept in­doors and un­der­cover once more, auc­tions as an out­let for the years stock will be can­celled just as the birds are reach­ing their prime for mar­ket, and shows will be can­celled just when the birds are ‘bang on form’. It’s a game changer when you think about it.

What is the point of breed­ing for on­ward sale if one of the main routes to mar­ket, the live­stock auc­tion, is only an avail­able dur­ing the ‘off sea­son’? What is the point of breed­ing for show when the prime time for show­ing is when the birds are not at their best? And over­all will it mean less back­yard poul­try flocks?

Small-scale poul­try breed­ers and show peo­ple (those in the Fancy as it is called) are the main­stay, and cham­pi­ons of all pure breed poul­try. With­out them many, if not all of the pure poul­try breeds of the UK would have been lost. With the dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity of the avian flu re­stric­tions reap­pear­ing, then we could well see a los­ing bat­tle for the pure breeds go­ing for­ward. In fact, even if the re­stric­tions don’t re­turn, many peo­ple have found it hard to rear their usual num­bers of stock so have de­cided to give this year a break; this will have a di­rect im­pact on the qual­ity and quan­tity of pure breed poul­try at auc­tion and in shows. This in turn will leave the spec­tre of ex­tinc­tion for many pure breeds of poul­try a very real pos­si­bil­ity.

What if the re­stric­tions be­come an an­nual event, and what will that mean to small-scale sup­pli­ers, keepers and the show scene?

ABOVE: Show birds. The ban on poul­try shows was still in place as Your Chickens went to print

TOP LEFT: A mum and her chicks. Are they safe? BOTTOM LEFT: Young birds reared by a com­mer­cial poul­try breeder BOTTM RIGHT: All poul­try can now be al­lowed out­side

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