Bird flu update

Farming Today has carried out what they call an investigation into backyard flocks of poultry that have not been housed despite this being the law. Their investigation appeared to consist of taking a phone call from a listener and then going and talking to someone.  I can’t say I’ve carried out an investigation but I predict that north Essex/south Suffolk is quite a good place to find domestic ducks still swimming around on village ponds and gaggles of white farmyard geese running around…errr….farmyards.  The fact is that Defra hasn’t got its message out widely enough and nor have the farming unions. And no one seems to be enforcing the action anyway. Have the police been asked to knock on the doors of any people with poultry still running around their fields, farmyards or villages? Most of the ‘backyard’ flocks I saw were ‘farmyard’ flocks.

Farming Today also reported on the lifting of bird flu restrictions from the end of February in most parts of the country.  But first they had a discussion about how wild birds transmit the disease to captive birds. We heard from Prof Donald Broom that waterfowl, particularly diving ducks, are the species most ‘prone’ to bird flu (although, rather negligently, the word prone was not defined or explained) and also that ‘the reality is that the risk is extremely low except when they (poultry) might be coming in contact with waterfowl, and sometimes that might be through people. Probably the major method of transmission is people getting bird droppings on their clothes and boots and taking it into the poultry unit.‘.  Charlotte Smith couldn’t get away from the idea that it was wild birds dive-bombing poultry farms with their infected droppings that was the main cause of the spread of the disease so the Prof explained that birds are not defecating all over the place in flight and that isn’t, it really isn’t, the most likely transmission route. It is much more likely to be a farmer who has goose shit on their boots.

This useful piece of practical information has been a long time emerging and has a lot of implications for biosecurity in poultry farms.  It would have been sensible if it had emerged weeks and weeks ago so that poultry farmers could also get away from looking at a wheeling flock of Starlings as a big threat to their stock and think rather more about washing their wellies, thinking about where their kids were going when away from the farm etc etc

I remain sceptical as to whether we know nearly enough about how bird flu is transmitted but if it is from wild waterfowl droppings then that is a very different kettle of fish from wild birds in general.  It is notable that only three diving ducks are listed by Defra as having tested positively for H5N8 in the UK this winter: two Pochard in Merseyside (I think that is the Marshside RSPB nature reserve at Southport) and a Tufted Duck in Lancashire (which the RSPB seems to think is a Wigeon).

One new case of H5N8 in wild birds, a single wild bird, was reported by Defra last week – a Whooper Swan in Norfolk.



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12 Replies to “Bird flu update”

  1. Out backyard flock (7 poultry, 5 ducks) have been in since the ‘lockdown’ was enforced. We are in a 2 mile clear window between two high risk zones, so we have decided to keep them in for now. We have had no communication from a defra even though we are on a smallholding with a holding number – the whole thing has been a farce from the start!!

  2. On 5th February I reported a farm that had hens out in a field, clearly visible from the road, and this farm being no more than a mile, as the avian flu-ridden bird flies, from a recent outbreak of the disease.
    In fact there have been restriction signs on the sides of the road warning the public.
    The report was emailed to the APHA Customer Advice Team.
    APHA is the Animal and Plant Health Agency, an executive agency of DEFRA.
    I received a reply; “…the information has been recorded. We are not an enforcement agency but we will investigate and take appropriate action where necessary.”
    It is now over a week since I noticed the hens, which were still roaming freely today.

  3. I’m intrigued as to the statement from Prof Donald Broom that “waterfowl, particularly diving ducks, are the species most ‘prone’ to bird flu”.
    Has someone with more knowledge than me (which would not be difficult) got a reference for this?

  4. In fairness to commercial poultry farmers, I think the larger ones are very hot on biosecurity at all times anyway (my brother works for one of them). They wouldn’t stay in business if they weren’t.

    Maybe some small hobby farming/smallholding ones are less careful, but it’s the big firms that dominate the industry anyway. This may be one issue where big actually is better.

    1. I think it also depends on how knowledgeable the keepers are (large or small). We’ve taking this seriously from the start, no footwear near the birds that has been worn elsewhere, no walking the dogs in high risk areas in case they bring something on the property, we wear shoe protectors when we’re in with the birds, and we’ve only got 12! I still think the lack of communication is a huge problem.

  5. ps – I live in north Essex/south Suffolk and I haven’t noticed many chickens or domestic ducks out and about recently. Just as it’s not as simple as blaming wild birds, its probably also not helpful or fair to simply blame poor practice by poultry keepers, even if a few should be more careful most aren’t that reckless.

    If it was that simple to stop the flu spreading life would be easier all round, but clearly it isn’t.

  6. I think it obvious what Prof Bloom means. Every one knows that one is more likely to catch a cold, if you are out swimming on a winters day, than if one were to be sensible, and stay dry on the riverbank.

    One needn’t be a Prof to understand this kind of logic.

    1. One doesn’t need to be a Prof to know the common cold is unlikely to be caught by swimming in cold water! Hypothermia maybe.

  7. Where do we report farms which have admitted to customers they have sick birds, but are not reporting them to DEFRA? I’ve had to dump two local door-to-door “free range” suppliers who have quite brazenly admitted not reporting sick birds in their flock (and one of which proudly linked their not doing so to Brexit and the EU), so I do wonder if there is underreporting in the British industry. What is the inspection regime? I honestly had never thought about it until now, and I don’t know where to start to try and find that information out.

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