Students at the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies will be the first undergraduates in the UK to have the option of specialising in poultry disease and welfare.

The school is running an optional course for final year students to cater for a rising demand for specialist poultry vets.

Run in conjunction with St David’s Poultry Team, the intensive full-time elective course lasts three weeks. There are plans to expand this to seven weeks in the future and it aims to provide theoretical and practical knowledge to undergraduate students on poultry care.

Chickens

Barry Thorp, from St David’s Poultry Team, who is co-ordinating the course, said: “There are currently around 170 vets registered with the British Veterinary Poultry Association and the need for poultry vets is increasing, not least with the move to organic and free range farming where the likelihood of disease is increased because of exposure to wild birds.

“There is also the issue of avian flu and how this should be dealt with if there were ever a major outbreak,” he said.

“Work as a poultry vet can vary from dealing with a client who may have around 10 chickens to a client with around 500,000 chickens.”

The course, which has places for three students, will include working on farms and studying breeding. There is also a section run with the School’s Veterinary Pathology Unit that will focus on diagnosing disease and poultry pathology.

Elaine Watson, head of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies added: “Commercial poultry and game birds make up a large part of the livestock industry and contribute significantly to the rural economy and employment. Running this course will not only give vet students greater skills, but it will also respond to needs of the poultry sector.”