The UK’s chief veterinary officer Dr Christine Middlemiss said there was a “phenomenal level” of avian flu in the UK as poultry and waterfowl face “flockdown” for the second year running.
This winter’s concern is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1, which stresses the importance for keepers to be highly vigilant and follow the most up-to-date guidelines.
Our simple guide below outlines ways you can help to reduce the risks to your flock.
Biosecurity is Key
Good biosecurity is vital to maintain overall flock health and provide an essential defence to help limit the spread of disease. Clean footwear before and after visiting your birds. Put a footbath either outside or just inside your run and ensure you dip your feet before entering and leaving.
Keep areas clean and tidy and regularly disinfect hard surfaces, feeders and drinkers. You should use a disinfectant which has been approved by DEFRA and tested to kill off the AI virus such as Nettex Virocur, Progiene Coxicur or Virkon LSP.
Discourage wild birds from your chicken run. Restrict access to food sources by placing your birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas and clear up any spilled feed regularly. You can also keep your birds separate from wild birds and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around any outdoor areas they can access.
Fence off areas of standing water and put netting over ponds and run enclosures. If you keep waterfowl as well as chickens, then they should be housed separately as waterfowl are the main virus carriers. Rodents are a common pest issue but they can also be vectors in spreading AI and so it is also important to consider rodent control as part of your biosecurity measures.
Happy Hen Homes
Your flock are likely to be spending more time in their housing and run and so it is important to ensure that you provide enough living space for your chickens. There are no specific regulations for backyard owners regarding stocking density, however, as a guide we would recommend that you have at least 4ft square of space per bird.
You should also have one feeder and one drinker for every four birds or less. Make sure that the coop and run are in good repair and check that the housing has adequate ventilation. Ensure the run is well attached and has a waterproof covering to protect the flock from contaminated wild bird droppings and potential bad weather.
We also recommend adding some enrichment to limit boredom whilst housed. Dust baths, perches and flowerpots to jump on can be good ways of enriching the environment. Alternatively, keep your hens occupied with a supplementary treat to help encourage scratch feeding. Consider a bedding for its insulation benefits, natural antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and to increase enrichment, keeping birds happy, active and interested, through scratching and pecking.
It is important to be aware of the clinical signs of AI and remain vigilant for any signs of disease in your flock. All chicken owners should always have a first aid kit handy to help deal with minor problems. Examining your chickens regularly can help you to know what is normal and to identify any problems early.
Typical clinical signs of AI include a swollen head, closed eyes, difficulty breathing, lethargy, discolouration of the face and sudden death. Ducks and geese may show less or different symptoms so if you are in any doubt or have any concerns about the health of your birds, then you should seek prompt advice from your vet.
If you suspect that your birds might have AI, report it immediately by calling the DEFRA Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.
To keep up to date with the latest news, it is also well worth registering your flock to receive free alerts on any outbreaks of bird flu in your area. Visit www.gov.uk and search ‘poultry registration forms’.