Last year I predicted this threat could well become a reality in terms of keeping birds indoors and under cover for 6 months of the year. I didn’t want to imagine it could become a year round issue. There will be some tough decisions and tough times ahead for backyarders, the Fancy and poultry shows if this is what the future holds.
UK – The Animal and Plant Health Agency is warning farmers and smallholders not to feed catering or kitchen waste to livestock such as pigs and poultry, even if they are being kept as pets.
I recall the morning of the 7th of December 2016 as being much like any other at that time of year. It was dark outdoors as I filled the kettle and switched on the radio. The weather had turned slightly mild and damp after a nice spell of icy cold weather. I remember thinking we could have done with another week of the cold weather just to ‘clean the ground’. The poultry really do seem to benefit from seasonal shifts like that as opposed to the mild merge of muddy autumn into murky winter. Aside from that, they always look resplendent free ranging on a frosty, bright day.
Routine had the radio playing the Today programme on Radio 4 and it’s not every day that poultry makes it on to the news. No surprise then that my ears instinctively pricked up as the Chief Vet came on air and informed the reporters that due to outbreaks of a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza which is sweeping across Europe, DEFRA have invoked a precautionary “prevention zone”. This order required all poultry and captive birds to be kept indoors for 30 days in order to reduce the risk of possible infection occurring from domesticated birds coming into contact with infected migratory wild birds. Initially this only impacted England however within days Wales and Scotland quickly followed suit and the zone became UK wide.
It had been on the cards. I had been following the discussions taking place between the authorities and the industry during the autumn as I recall the spectre of the AI hovering over the country a decade ago. The impact that had still resonates, but for me it is not so much from an industry perspective, but from that of the backyarder and smallholder.
I haven’t done the maths but I suspect I wouldn’t be far wrong to say that 98% of the poultry in the UK is owned by 2% of the poultry keepers and as such a large element of the risk can be managed with a plan that works for a small minority of keepers. The reverse is, 98% of poultry keepers owning 2% of the poultry and these are dispersed and relatively unregulated and unmonitored.
We are predominantly free rangers who view a chicken coop as a place where the birds roost and lay their eggs. as opposed to a building where the flock can be contained for 30 days, and there lies the crux. Precautionary prevention zones are sensible and far more desirable than an outbreak and the subsequent indiscriminate destruction of birds that fall within that biohazard zone, and I suspect that if the action is successful (measured on the basis of no infection occurring whilst the order is in place) then they will become a more frequent occurrence.
Commercial keepers of thousands of birds have the capacity to contain their flocks within the sheds has been analysed and generally agreed as a feasible approach but what of the small scale keeper?
DEFRA have state the “The Prevention Zones requires all poultry and captive birds, including backyard flocks and other captive birds, to be housed or, where it is not practicable to do so, requires steps to be taken to keep them separate from wild birds. If you keep your birds near your home, consider housing them in alternative accommodation, such as a garden building, a garage or redundant building that could be adapted to house your birds temporarily.”
This is sound advice for those who have such buildings and DEFRA went on to say “Remember to check for, and remove, hazardous and toxic substances such as rat bait, and make sure the birds have access to water and somewhere to perch. You must also practice good biosecurity – for example disinfecting footwear and equipment and washing clothing after contact with birds.”
Victoria Roberts, one of Britain’s leading poultry vets, and fellow magazine contributor, when asked what action smallholders and back garden poultry keepers should take said “In its most pragmatic terms, ‘indoors’ means protection from wild bird faeces, so a covered run is better welfare for chickens than being shut in a dark shed. Free range hens will need entertainment if suddenly confined, such as branches for extra perching, vegetables hung up etc. to avoid conflict.”
One twitter user asked me if wire mesh over the top of the run would be enough to keep her flock safe. I reminded her that bird faeces would still be able to drop through the mesh and that a tarpaulin cover would prevent this, but to ensure it had slight tilt on it so that rain (and snow) could run off safely and away from the flock underneath.
Victoria has also echoed this point adding “The birds need to be kept in the hen hut until the keeper can construct a makeshift run that is covered.”
It is ultimately a case of common sense as this disease is no different than many in that it is spread through:
- movement of poultry, people, vehicles and equipment between and within locations;
- the introduction of birds of poor or unknown health status;
- contact with other flocks;
- using shared equipment and vehicles, which have not been effectively cleansed and disinfected;
- contact with vermin or wild birds;
- birds drinking from contaminated water sources;
- birds eating contaminated feed;
- unsatisfactory cleansing and disinfection of vehicles, sheds, feeding troughs and other equipment.
The objective therefore is to remove, or at least dramatically reduce, the risk of your flock coming into contact with wild birds or their faeces. Here are some specific considerations for when a prevention zone is invoked.
Keep the flock indoors – if this is possible then it is the easiest option but observe the welfare needs of the birds closely by increasing your cleaning regime, providing additional items of interest for your flock, and observing a tight biosecurity plan to reduce the risk of infection being carried into the housing. It should go without saying but any proposed building must also take into account the importance of adequate ventilation.
Keep the flock runs covered – permanent indoor housing might not be possible it which case a cover over the run is needed. Small gauge mesh will only stop birds from entering the run and whilst better than nothing at all, a solid cover is far superior at reducing the risk. Consider erecting a solid lean-to on the side of existing houses, this could be a fence panelling for example, or adapting a fruit cage using tarpaulin. Creating temporary outdoor pens using straw bales and a tarpaulin roof with small gaps for light and ventilation is another option. Be aware though if bad weather is likely to be a problem, it may be necessary to erect a windbreak around your structure.
Keep moveable coops in the same place – if your birds are housed in moveable arks or tractor units then don’t be tempted to move the house to fresh ground. This will simply increase the possibility of your flock coming into contact with wild bird faeces.
Keep your access to the housing and run area to a minimum – by doing this you will reduce the risk of you contaminating the area with wild bird faeces you may have come into contact with elsewhere on your property
Keep your equipment clean – use disinfectant such as Virkon to keep equipment and footwear clean, and ensure the clothing you use when working with your poultry is washed after contact with birds.
Keep feed and water out of the reach of wild birds – make sure that drinkers are under cover and ideally put feeders in the coop. Avoid placing water in the house unless you are using nipple drinkers; regularly drinkers will get knocked over in any skirmishes in the coop.
Keep your birds contained – avoid unnecessary handling and movement of your birds on or off site, and where practical avoid visiting other poultry keeping establishments to reduce any possibility of cross contamination.
Keep a close eye on your poultry – if you have any signs of illness then seek advice from a qualified vet.
The 6th of Jan is when the restrictions are due to be lifted however time will tell if the pre-emptive action has paid dividends, but more over whether all 100% of the UKs poultry keepers have conformed and made their contribution to keeping the UK bird flu free.
A LONG-RUNNING radio drama has helped to boost sales of geese for the Christmas table at a North-East poultry farm.
In wild forms of the chicken such as the Red Jungle Fowl a moult can occur in two stages effectively giving the impression of two moults. It is particularly evident in the males. Firstly they will moult their brightly coloured body and head feathers replacing them with more subdued tones more akin to the females. This affords them a level of discretion and camouflage whilst they go through the vulnerable stage of moulting their wing feathers and primary flight feathers.
When these are moulted and not yet fully grown the birds ability to evade predation by short flight is compromised hence the ‘eclipse’ of their coloured plumage. Once the wing feathers have re-grown the second stage of the moult occurs where the temporary dull coloured feathers are replaced by the bright breeding plumage.
Moulting in this manner is more frequently seen in ducks where the drakes on a lake seem to disappear. They are in fact still present but hiding in more subdued female looking feathering.
ASSISTING IN A HATCH
Hatching season is now upon us and if you decide to try your hand at hatching this year for the first time then the first rule of thumb is ‘sit on your hands’ during the process. Many folks find their first venture into incubator hatching doesn’t quite turn out as it should. Even if the eggs are fertile and candle well, the hatch rate is not quite the bundle of fluff that was expected. More often than not it’s the fault of the operator and not that of the eggs or the chicks.
Artificial incubation isn’t a dark art but it equally it isn’t an exact science. The bottom line is you are trying to get the incubator to the right conditions to enable the embryo to develop fully and the egg to lose 15% of its mass over the designated incubation period (21 days in chickens). Slight fluctuations in those conditions can result in earlier or later hatches and this is where as a first timer you can start to get anxious. It starts with checking the incubator, initially this is looking through the window, next its opening the machine itself (bang goes the optimum conditions when you do this and it will take time for those conditions to return). Next might be to add more water because you don’t think it’s humid enough and then finally it will picking at the shells of the eggs that look like they might have started to pip and its day 21 and thats what the instruction book says is the day the chicks hatch.
Don’t. Sit on your hands or better still go away and do something less destructive because destructive is what you are likely to be if you start to assist in a hatch. You might well break out a chick which goes on to live healthily but by the same measure you can cause leg problems (the chick needs to push itself from the egg to stretch its leg tendons) or worse still kill it by either causing excessive membrane bleed or extracting the youngster from its shell before it’s absorbed all the yolk.
Let nature take its course, some chicks hatch quickly, others slowly, and ducks are down right lazy, rarely though does your intervention in the process result in useful assistance.
BE AWARE : Due to the volume of attendees & a poor weather forecast this sale will now be taking place at Oswestry Showground
(SY11 4AB will bring you close to but not exactly to the showground so look out for the road signs)
Some of you might have read about the retirement of Graham Hicks, one of the top domestic waterfowl breeders in the UK, and without a doubt the largest gene pool and collection of domestic waterfowl here in the UK and quite possibly Europe. Sad as it is, heres the list of what will be sold,
….and for those who may have missed it, heres my article on the subject with a photo that doesn’t do justice to the massive size and quality of that Muscovy drake!
One of the greats to retire from the Fancy
After well over 30 years of breeding waterfowl and 12 years of running one of the largest collections of waterfowl breeds in the UK if not Europe, Graham Hicks of the world renowned Hicks Waterfowl World has decided it’s time to retire.
“It’s been a very difficult decision to reach and I’ve given it some hard thought over the last 12 months but I’ve finally decide it’s time to retire from the Fancy.” said Graham “I’ve enjoyed many years of success on the show circuit and pioneered a number of new colours and varieties of waterfowl but the time has come for me to retire.” he added.
Graham is one of the few fanciers left in waterfowl world who would carry a show team of birds to the major events around the country and his involvement with the fancy and waterfowl breeding world will be sadly missed. He has set standards of waterfowl exhibiting that are recognised throughout the world resulting in him being asked to attend events throughout Europe and recently as far away as Australia. His skill and knowledge have contributed significantly to todays understanding of waterfowl through his creation of a rich vein of high quality livestock, and the significance and size of the waterfowl gene pool he has nurtured over the years is immeasurable.
“I’ll be holding a Retirement Sale in October when all the birds will have passed through the moult. People will be able to come and buy my breeding stock and hopefully continue on the quality bloodlines I’ve built up over the years.” said Graham “It will be a sad day and no doubt there will be a few tears but rest assured I’ll still have a keen interest in following the Fancy and will keep in touch with all the good friends I’ve made over the years.”
Hicks Waterfowl Retirement Sale will take place on Sunday 21st October at
Hicks Waterfowl World, Brookhouse Farm, Selattyn, Oswestry OSWESTRY SHOWGROUND, PARK HALL, OSWESTRYwith the first lot expected around 10am. There will be over 500 lots of livestock on auction plus a limited selection of rearing equipment.