Keeping the virus out of our flocks

The arrival of avian flu in the UK last week had a number of effects.

First and foremost, it led to movement and housing restrictions on poultry units in the immediate vicinity and wider area.

It also forced the government to abandon its simulated contingency plan, Exercise Hawthorn, and get on with the real thing.

Third, it triggered a national media frenzy, with TV crews and print journalists flocking to the small Scottish fishing village of Cellardyke.

Since then, things have quietened down and the good news is that, at time of going to press, the disease was still officially limited to one dead swan.

But the country remains in a state of high alert and it is probably only a matter of time before further cases crop up in wild birds.

The priority remains to keep the disease out of the commercial poultry flock.

This avian flu special, compiled by Farmers Weekly and Poultry World staff, aims to help in this endeavour.

Stringent biosecurity and extra vigilance are the keys to keeping avian influenza at bay, according to advice from NFU Scotland and the Scottish Executive.

The disease spreads easily, so efforts should be made to minimise movement of poultry, people, vehicles and equipment between and within poultry premises, they say.

The introduction of birds of low or unknown health status should be avoided, as should contact with neighbours’ flocks and using shared farm equipment and vehicles.

And efforts should be stepped up to minimise contact with vermin and wild birds, such as drinking from contaminated water sources or access to food.

Clinical signs often present suddenly, and quickly recognising them is vital to controlling the disease and preventing it from spreading, said a statement.

“If you suspect that your flock has avian flu, you should isolate and stop all movement of poultry, hatching eggs, equipment and personnel and contact your local animal health office immediately.

“Keep new, incoming birds isolated from the rest of the flock and discuss with your vet a testing and monitoring programme.

Use separate equipment and staff or handle isolated birds last.”

The official advice is also to keep isolation buildings as near as possible to the farm entrance, separate from other poultry buildings, and to actively prevent vermin from getting in and spreading any disease.

Using approved disinfectants only, clean and then disinfect all vehicles after each journey and, if possible, do not use the same vehicles for transporting birds, feed, manure or other wastes.

Make sure the inside of the vehicle is cleaned as well.

Sheds, feeding troughs, crates and other equipment should be regularly cleaned, then disinfected, especially after depopulation at the end of a cycle.

The official advice also urges poultry keepers to apply top biosecurity principles to clothing and footwear, to limit access to visitors, to keep unnecessary vehicles away and to refrain from visiting other farms or poultry units.

“Your dog could be carrying infective material on its hair or feet, so it is best left at home,” said an NFU Scotland statement.