Be pre­pared

Nigel Gibbens, the Govern­ment’s Chief Vet­eri­nary Of­fi­cer, is­sues an ap­peal to poul­try keep­ers and sug­gests some prac­ti­cal steps we can all take

Your Chickens - - Contents -

The UK’s Chief Vet ad­vises on bird flu pre­cau­tions as win­ter ap­proaches

Last win­ter, the out­break of a se­vere strain of bird flu in the UK posed a great chal­lenge to every­one who keeps birds. We saw how dev­as­tat­ing the dis­ease can be once it makes its way into a flock, as mil­lions of birds had to be culled across Europe. Cases are still be­ing con­firmed on the Con­ti­nent, with Italy the lat­est coun­try to ex­pe­ri­ence sig­nif­i­cant out­breaks.

At the time of writing, I’m pleased to be able to say we haven’t had a con­firmed case in kept birds in the UK for two months. But a wild swan with the dis­ease was found re­cently in Nor­folk, so we know it un­doubt­edly re­mains a threat and one likely to in­crease as we move again to­wards the colder months and mi­gra­tory birds be­gin to ar­rive. That’s why it is cru­cial that keep­ers of flocks large and small do ev­ery­thing they can now to re­duce the risk to their birds.

What’s the risk from bird flu? The H5N8 strain of Avian In­fluenza, com­monly known as bird flu, af­fects all types of poul­try, in­clud­ing chick­ens, ducks and geese, and be­tween De­cem­ber and June the UK ex­pe­ri­enced a num­ber of cases. It can be spread by di­rect contact be­tween birds and by any­thing that brings live bird flu virus from in­fected birds into contact with other birds. That in­cludes drop­pings in the en­vi­ron­ment, of course, but also con­tam­i­nated equip­ment, feed, cloth­ing and footwear, and un­cooked poul­try meat or eggs. It is not just about wild birds, but they were a key risk last year and will be in the fu­ture.

Read­ers have been on the front line in re­duc­ing the spread of this dis­ease, and may well need to be again in the com­ing months. The risk of dis­ease is lower be­cause wild birds are not mi­grat­ing to the UK and the warmer and drier (for some!) weather kills the virus in the en­vi­ron­ment more quickly. Now is a good time to take stock and make sure your birds are as well pro­tected as pos­si­ble go­ing into the win­ter.

H5N8 Avian Flu is a highly in­fec­tious dis­ease and can af­fect your flock what­ever its size – from vast com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions to pet chick­ens in your back gar­dens. Last win­ter, we saw cases in small backyard flocks, as well as on farms.

Dis­ease out­breaks cause birds to suf­fer, dam­age busi­nesses and cost the UK tax­payer mil­lions, so it is in the in­ter­ests of all keep­ers to take proac­tive pre­ven­ta­tive ac­tion against bird flu. On a UK-wide scale, pro­tect­ing the na­tional flock and rapidly elim­i­nat­ing in­fec­tion when­ever this dis­ease af­fects kept birds is a pri­or­ity. On an in­di­vid­ual level, as poul­try keep­ers you are pri­mar­ily con­cerned about your birds’ wel­fare, which in­cludes pro­tect­ing them from dis­ease. How­ever, bird flu in a backyard flock leads to the same re­stric­tions on trade in poul­try from an area as an out­break on a com­mer­cial farm – so bird flu in a small back

gar­den flock can have se­ri­ous con­se­quences for lo­cal farm­ers. This high­lights your wider duty to do ev­ery­thing that you can to pre­vent bird flu from get­ting into your flock.

Why we need to take ac­tion now We can­not rest on our lau­rels and con­grat­u­late our­selves on keep­ing dis­ease spread to a min­i­mum, com­pared to other parts of Europe. We can­not say how likely the dis­ease is to re­turn this win­ter, but we have to be pre­pared for the pos­si­bil­ity – par­tic­u­larly as we know that it is trans­mit­ted via mi­gra­tory wild birds, which will re­turn later this year.

I un­der­stand some of the mea­sures we had to put in place last win­ter were a chal­lenge for peo­ple with a few pet chick­ens in their gar­den – par­tic­u­larly the re­quire­ment to keep birds un­der cover. Your co­op­er­a­tion was a cru­cial part of our ef­forts to con­trol dis­ease. I was im­pressed with the in­ge­nu­ity of many peo­ple’s ap­proaches to the hous­ing re­quire­ment, in­clud­ing one keeper who had adapted their tram­po­line to cre­ate a tem­po­rary hen­house!

But it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that main­tain­ing good biose­cu­rity is not just a re­quire­ment dur­ing a ma­jor dis­ease out­break – it’s some­thing keep­ers should be do­ing all year round.

There are a num­ber of ac­tions you can take now to pro­tect your birds as best as pos­si­ble for the com­ing win­ter. Above all, it is im­por­tant to try to avoid contact be­tween poul­try and wild birds – ei­ther di­rect bird-to-bird contact, or in­di­rect contact via the en­vi­ron­ment, where dis­ease can be spread through things like con­tam­i­nated bird drop­pings.

What is ‘good biose­cu­rity’? You might have heard ad­vice to prac­tice ‘good biose­cu­rity’ dur­ing the win­ter’s bird flu out­break. Biose­cu­rity means tak­ing steps to min­imise the risk of a dis­ease en­ter­ing or spreading from your premises.

Read­ers have been on the front line in re­duc­ing the spread of this dis­ease, and may well need to be again in the com­ing months.

All poul­try keep­ers should prac­tice good biose­cu­rity ev­ery day. It helps keep poul­try healthy and pro­duc­tive, lim­its the risk of dis­ease and cuts the costs of treat­ment.

Dur­ing an out­break, strict biose­cu­rity is es­sen­tial. But if you can get into the habit of tak­ing prac­ti­cal steps on biose­cu­rity now, you will be far bet­ter pre­pared to deal with any fu­ture out­break.

Top tips to fol­low:

Clean footwear be­fore and af­ter vis­it­ing where your birds live. Keep ar­eas clean and tidy, con­trol ver­min and reg­u­larly dis­in­fect any hard sur­faces.

Place your birds’ food and wa­ter in fully en­closed ar­eas that are pro­tected from wild birds, and re­move any spilled feed reg­u­larly. Keep your birds sep­a­rate from wildlife and wild wa­ter­fowl by putting suit­able fenc­ing around the out­door ar­eas they ac­cess.

Good biose­cu­rity is es­sen­tial all year round Bird flu can be passed from wild birds to poul­try di­rectly from bird to bird or in­di­rectly via the en­vi­ron­ment. The H5N8 virus can sur­vive in the en­vi­ron­ment in moist poul­try drop­pings or wa­ter for up to 55 days if con­di­tions are right, so it re­ally is vi­tal to keep clean­ing and dis­in­fect­ing.

Dis­ease can be spread by peo­ple, poul­try, ve­hi­cles and equip­ment mov­ing be­tween and within places where birds are kept; by us­ing shared equip­ment which has not been ef­fec­tively cleansed and dis­in­fected; by contact with other in­fected flocks or by poul­try of poor or un­known health sta­tus be­ing in­tro­duced to your flock; by contact with ver­min or wild birds; and by poul­try drink­ing from con­tam­i­nated wa­ter sources or eat­ing con­tam­i­nated feed.

The great­est di­rect risk ap­pears to be contact with wild wa­ter­fowl or gulls, and keep­ers should do ev­ery­thing they can to pre­vent this risk by re­duc­ing any contact with th­ese birds.

Pre­par­ing for the win­ter We don’t know whether we will ex­pe­ri­ence an out­break, or whether it will be on the scale of last year’s again this win­ter. It’s im­por­tant to note that Pub­lic Health Eng­land ad­vises the risk to hu­man health from the H5N8 strain is very low and the Food Stan­dards Agency has said there is no food safety risk for UK con­sumers. There have never been any recorded cases in hu­mans in any of the coun­tries where H5N8 has been re­ported, from Asia, to the Mid­dle East, Africa and Europe. How­ever, this isn’t the case with all strains of bird flu. Some are able to in­fect and cause dis­ease in peo­ple in close contact with birds, and dis­ease can be se­vere or even fa­tal in some cases. Whilst this is not cur­rently a prob­lem, we can­not rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that one of th­ese strains may af­fect the UK in fu­ture.

So it is vi­tal to do ev­ery­thing we can to min­imise the risk of dis­ease in all kept birds. Talk to your friends and neigh­bours, re­mind them of the on­go­ing threat and please en­cour­age them to take ac­tion.

Ef­fec­tive dis­ease con­trol will al­ways be the Govern­ment’s pri­or­ity. The lat­est ev­i­dence sug­gests H5N8 con­tin­ues to cir­cu­late in wild birds, and we must all re­main vig­i­lant. To tackle this dis­ease, we need every­one who keeps poul­try to do all they can to pro­tect poul­try from in­fec­tion and keep the coun­try free from dis­ease in kept birds, even though we are chal­lenged by in­fec­tion in the wild bird pop­u­la­tion.

ABOVE: Chief Vet­eri­nary Of­fi­cer Nigel Gibbens

ABOVE: Do­mes­tic geese are at risk

TOP: Dis­ease can be car­ried by ve­hi­cles as well as poul­try di­rectly from bird to bird or in­di­rectly via the en­vi­ron­ment ABOVE: Your hens could be at risk BE­LOW: Mi­grat­ing wild birds spread bird flu

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