Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 has been confirmed in multiple areas in Scotland and in other parts of the UK. An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) came into force across Great Britain on the 3rd November 2021, and in Northern Ireland on the 17th November 2021. This was extended to include housing measures across the UK on the 29th November 2021.
These measures mean that it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers across the UK (whether they have pet birds, commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock) to keep their birds indoors and follow strict biosecurity measures to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.
What is Avian Influenza?
Avian Influenza is present in the wild bird population and a such presents a constant risk to poultry keepers. An outbreak of bird flu can be disastrous for a business financially as well as for the welfare of your poultry. There are two types of Avian influenza, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is the more serious type. It is often fatal in birds. This is the type that is present across the UK just now. Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious and may show more vague clinical signs. Typically, birds do not show clinical signs, however you may notice an unexplained drop in production or some mild breathing difficulty. Both types are notifiable diseases and such if you suspect that you have a case in either owned poultry or wild birds you must report it to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Failure to do so is an offence.
How to spot Avian Influenza
This type of Avian Influenza presents suddenly, often with very high mortality. Affected birds can develop swollen heads, blue colouration of the comb and wattles, dullness, lack of appetite, respiratory distress, diarrhoea and significant drop in egg production. However, there can be considerable variation in the clinical picture and severity of the disease.
As stated above infection with LPAI can be difficult to detect, with very few if any clinical signs. An infected flock might show signs of respiratory distress, diarrhoea, a loss of appetite or a drop in egg production of more than 5%.
As stated above, bird flu is present in the wild bird population, and cases of wild birds with HPAI has been found across Scotland. If you suspect wild birds in your area are dying from Bird Flu, you must report it to APHA.
How to protect your flock
Most cases of Bird flu in farmed poultry have been found to be due to poor biosecurity procedures or breaches of protocol. This is good news, as it means if you have good biosecurity procedures you have a good chance of protecting your flock and business.
The introduction of housing measures means that poultry keepers, whether keepers of just a few birds or thousands, must now:
- House or net all poultry and captive birds to keep them separate from wild birds.
- Cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing.
- Reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, to minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and use effective vermin control.
- Thoroughly cleanse and disinfect housing on a continuous basis.
- Keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all farm and poultry housing entry and exit points.
- Minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds.
Further advice on good biosecurity procedures can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu#biosecurity
Protecting Bird Welfare During the Housing Order
Poultry that have been used to having access to the outdoors will be adversely affected by the housing order that has been implemented. The stress induced by this change of routine can exhibit itself with birds having lower feed intake, drop in egg production etc. However, there are several steps you can take to mitigate the effect on your poultry. We have several guides on our website which can be accessed here
Firstly, signs of poor welfare and stress must be monitored and identified, these can include but are not limited to injurious feather pecking (it is likely that some feather pecking will occur when the management changes occur) and loss of condition. Poultry should be inspected frequently to look for signs of poor welfare.
Temperature and Ventilation
Ensuring that your housing have good temperatures and sufficient ventilation is critical to protecting welfare, particularly when stocking rates may not be ideal. It is recommended that thermometers are installed at bird level – this will allow you to monitor temperature and indirectly the effectiveness of the ventilation. Action should be taken if the temperature exceeds 21oC for adult birds. In addition, lighting patterns should be kept consistent, as variability in routine can lead to pecking.
Feed and Water
Fresh food and water should be provided in adequate amounts daily. These should not be able to be contaminated by wild birds. Scratch feeds can also be useful by enabling the poultry to exhibit natural foraging behaviour. If you must change the diet this should be done gradually, mixing the two feeds gradually increasing the prevalence of the new feed. Sudden changes result in injurious pecking. If pecking is still occurring mashing the feed, increases the feed time lowers incidence of pecking. In addition to this, feeding whole oats, wheat, corn, alfalfa, maize/barley/pea, silage and carrots can reduce injurious feather pecking, plumage damage and cannibalism.
Poultry affected by boredom can result in poor welfare, enriching the environment of the poultry can help to mitigate this. Arial Perches should also be provided, this not only uses vertical space to reduce stocking pressure but also allows submissive birds to escape from more aggressive birds. Providing entertainment in the form of straw bales, hanging cabbages, hanging CDs etc. is also a good way to keep birds occupied reducing pecking.
James Orr, email@example.com
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