Tips to minimise avian influenza risk on your farm

After two years of relatively low levels of avian influenza in Europe, it is back. The end of December marked the first outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain on a turkey farm in Poland.

While Defra has not formally raised the risk in the UK beyond Low, it is worth reviewing your farm’s biosecurity and contingency planning. David Clegg, of disease management specialist, Livetec Systems, outlines areas to focus on:

See also: Avian influenza: The signs and symptoms

Visitors

Making sure your farm perimeter is secure, with gates locked and signage clear and up to date is an essential first step, Mr Clegg says. “Site visits should be kept to a minimum and for essential activity only, especially in the live bird area.”

Visitors should have to sign in, and staff should make careful notes of when they arrive and leave work and who has been in with birds. It’s also important to avoid visiting any other poultry farms.

Vehicles must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, with careful attention paid to wheel arches – and ideally only feed deliveries, egg collection or live bird transport should be allowed on site. Provision should be made to prevent dead bird lorries coming onto the farm.

Wildlife and pests

Minimise contact with wild birds by cleaning away feed spillages on-farm – and cancel any weekend plans to go shooting, Mr Clegg says.

Fencing and netting can further discourage wild bird activity on your site, and smaller farms should avoid keeping waterfowl like ducks with laying hens or broilers.

Monitoring pest activity is essential, and control measures should be stepped up over winter, and ensure your farm plan is up to date and compliant with current legislation.

Biosecurity

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be issued at the biosecure point to any visitors, and a disposal bin should be available, as well.

Make sure foot dips are covered and changed regularly using Defra-approved disinfection. Keep areas where birds live clean and tidy and regularly disinfect paths and walkways.

Record keeping

One of the most challenging things, if caught in an outbreak, can be accurately tracing the disease source. Every possible vector of the virus will be explored, and those without detailed farm records will delay the time it takes to get up and running again.

It’s well worth keeping a copy of this off site, or stored digitally, for easy access in the event of an outbreak.

Awareness

Defra publishes weekly situation updates on its website that list the countries in Europe that have been hit. Carefully consider staff movements, and put employees on office duty or gardening leave if they are returning from an affected area.