Last chance to keep Avian Influenza out of your flock

The past week has seen the dreaded arrival of Avian Influenza (AI) in Northern Ireland (NI) with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) recently confirming the first case of the season in a commercial poultry flock.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 5th December 2021, 10:00 am
Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Picture: Cliff Donaldson

Although unwelcome, this news was not a huge surprise given cases in commercial poultry in the Republic of Ireland and other confirmed cases in wild birds in the Belfast area. The migratory movement has no doubt been responsible for the arrival of this devastating disease on our shores.

This strain of AI is a highly contagious viral disease which can affect the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous system of many species of birds. It can spread rapidly between birds and has a high mortality rate.

The UFU poultry committee have been actively promoting biosecurity messages to all our members over the last number of weeks. The hope had been that we would dodge the inevitable bullet of AI. As a poultry producer, there is one thing you can now be certain of, AI is present in NI and it could be right outside your poultry houses now! Nothing short of excellent biosecurity will protect your flocks from contracting this horrid disease.

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The thought of AI within a commercial flock should send shivers down the spine of any poultry farmer. The losses are not limited to the value of the birds themselves. Following an outbreak, farmers will endure a lengthy loss of production time and income, whilst the infected birds are removed, and the disinfection process gets underway. This could extend beyond six months depending on the circumstances within the local area, and the specific production system. Zones around infected premises are immediately created and movements within these zones are limited to and from other poultry flocks.

As farmers, we cannot control wild bird movements and as such flock keepers must operate bio-secure, quarantine farms with strict protocols in place with reference to visitors and deliveries. Owners of backyard flocks should strive towards meeting the same bio secure arrangements. A backyard flock, if appropriately registered and housed should not pose any increased risk to the poultry industry. There are strict regulations regarding backyard flocks and their registration requirements. All keepers of birds (except keepers of pet birds kept in the owner’s home) are required to register with DAERA. The benefit of doing so is, that, in the event of a disease breakdown, DAERA have a record of the location of all birds and can provide appropriate guidance.

If you even have one hen in your farmyard or back garden, you have an important role in preventing further disease outbreaks. An outbreak of AI in a backyard flock has the same impact on poultry keepers and trade as an outbreak on a commercial farm.

The UFU poultry committee would like to urge all poultry keepers to act now. DAERA have produced a biosecurity checklist. Every poultry keeper should use this as a self-check tool, to assess if their current protocols to prevent the disease entering flocks are sufficient.