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.
Further measures announced to reduce the risk of avian flu spreading
It is a huge shame that in precisely two weeks we have gone from preventative measures taken as a precaution, to an outbreak of AI, albeit localised, and then to the inevitable ban on poultry gatherings such as auctions, fairs and exhibitions.
It comes as no surprise, and whilst it is not something I would have wanted to predict at this time of year when we are only part way through the winter show schedule, there was always an air of closing the door after the horse has bolted, given the announcement a fortnight back.
That isn’t a reflection on the authorities, or those who have worked hard to come up with the most viable approach to the problem being witnessed on the continent. It is instead a sad a reflection of the knife edge on which we perch when it comes to disease pervasiveness and industrial scale global food production.
A ban on poultry shows is minor collateral damage from which the hobby will recover, however I suspect the same cannot be said of those producers whose livelihoods depend upon the livestock they grow for the food chain. The truth is, the more uniform and clinical something becomes the higher the risk that transmission will result in a total wipe out. If this were not the case then there would be many more dead wild birds being found with AI across our countryside.
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.
OSWESTRY POULTRY AUCTION
SATURDAY 25TH APRIL 2015
The weather report for the weekend wasn’t good, with the fine sunny weather reported to be turning cold and wet. It was certainly cooler but the rain stayed away in the main.
The other thing that was cooler was the volume of birds entered. A number of sales up and down the country have had to cancel or postpone auctions due to the lack of entries however this isn’t due to the lack of demand but really down to the lack of available stock around at the moment.
It’s a bold statement to make perhaps but it’s easy enough to back up as the sale and prices were hot! The auction had just over 140 lots of eggs, deadstock and poultry available and even with the upset prices applied to the auction only 3 lots failed to reach either their reserve or the base price.
A couple of vendors didn’t show on the day and if their reasoning was the low numbers of entries then they could well be kicking themselves given the buoyant prices.
Top for the day
Large Fowl White Wyandotte Pair (K Williams) £80
Buff Orpington Pair £42
Sebright (Gold, PR) £68
Sabelpoots (TR) £64
Sumatra (White, PR) £40
Serama (PR) average £38
Faverolles (Salmon, 2 pullets) £60
Wellsummers (TR) £50
Oxford (Pyle, PR) £44
Legbar (pullets) average £20/bird
The next sale will now be Sat 22nd August – Poultry, Poultry Deadstock, Farm Machinery & Antiques.
On a final note many thanks to the vendors and buyers who come to the auction. We are in our 5th year now and appreciate your continued support
As a mixed meat eating and vegetarian household we quite frequently debate the ethics of food and food production, not in an attempt to convert each other but because putting aside the ethical motivations surrounding the eating of meat, both forms of ‘diet’ create a demand on the planet, and both have the capacity to unsustainable. Recently one such discussion had us posing the question that assuming the very best current practices regarding environment protection and ethical treatment of animals were being adhered to then as a source of protein, which is more environmentally costly; dairy products such as milk and cheese, or eggs and meat from chickens?
There are so many variables at play in the production of diary versus poultry protein that I was glad I stumbled across an interesting piece of research the performed by the Environmental Working Group. They looked at the lifecycle total of greenhouse gas emissions for common protein foods and vegetables and expressed them as kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide equivalents per kg of food product. Unsurprisingly the production of lamb meat and beef sat at the top of the pile producing 39kg and 27kg of carbon respectively per one kg of product. It also came as no surprise that lentils sat at the opposite end producing 0.9kg per one kg of product. What did surprise me though was where diary sat in relation to poultry.
Eggs generate 4.8kg of carbon per kg of food and chicken meat sits around 6.9kg of carbon per kg of food. Milk came in at an impressive 1.9kg and in fact creates less of a carbon footprint than broccoli at 2kg and potatoes at 2.9kg per kg of food. But what of cheese? With a whooping 13.2kg of carbon per one kg of food produced it ranks amongst the highest in terms of carbon footprint when analysing the common protein foods sitting above pork, turkey and fish. Needless to say this threw up all manner of side debates but it does serve to illustrate that things are not always as they might appear.
Is that you? It could well be as I know quite a few folks who read or follow this blog fall into that urban farming category.
To cut a long story short I’ve been contacted by Will Steel of STV via Jane Perrone of The Guardian (ok, ok, name dropping… did I mention I was on Countryfile the other month? I did? Oh well my apologies) and he is developing a programme about people who have chickens and pigs in their city gardens.
As such he’s looking for anyone who has chickens in their city home who he could potentially contact about the programme? At the moment he’s just looking for some stories but you never know, this could be a fine opportunity to show your flat pack farm or backyard Bonanza !
If you are interested then contact Will directly firstname.lastname@example.org
More space doesn’t always mean better welfare
A stimulating debate was aired recently on BBC Countryfile which then spilt over on to various websites, agriculture press and social media. It wasn’t a humdinger but because there was a chicken element involved that I found myself following it quite closely, and became interested in the questions it was throwing up. The debate was whether Red Tractor was better than Freedom Foods.
If you are not familiar with the two concepts they are effectively assurance schemes that cover food production and within them there are welfare standards that livestock must be kept to. The purpose behind them means the producer is able to use product labelling such as “Red Tractor” or “Freedom Foods” which in turn provides the buyer with confidence that the animal product they are buying comes from a strictly controlled and monitored level of operation.
So why the debate if both are aiming to provide assurance and buyer confidence? The crux it would appear for many involved in the discussions was in the term “welfare”, and which scheme provided the better or higher, levels of welfare. This is probably in part due to the media creating a situation where low to high welfare sits on the same sliding scale as cage to free range organic does, if we use chickens as an example. It doesn’t, welfare is a measure of well-being, happiness and health. High welfare is happy, healthy and well cared for animals; by the same measure low welfare is distressed, sick and unkempt animals.
At this stage in my life I live in quite a rural environment. The nearest bus stop is 2 miles away alongside the nearest shop and the nearest Post Office is a further mile away. My environment is clean and unpolluted and such I consider my welfare (eg my happiness, health and well-being) to be quite high. In 30 years time though I might struggle being so remote and moving to a village or town with amenities on my doorstep would improve my welfare along with downsizing. Being human I will always endeavour to monitor and manage my environment to maximise my welfare.
The issue as I see it is not which scheme provides a perceived ‘better’ environment for the livestock, it is the one which has the most effective management practices and most importantly of all, the quality and standard of the monitoring procedures which feedback into the process to ensure welfare is maximised. Without close checking and scrutiny of livestock operations then it doesn’t matter what the standard or policies are, they are open to abuse, and abused they will be unintentionally or otherwise.
Returning to chickens, but moving away from the commercial side of things, I’ve seen a vast range of poultry keeping setups. There have been the small fixed pens containing trios of birds that are kept indoors and under artificial light through to the free ranging flock who ‘roam for miles and love to roost outdoors’.
At face value the later would seem to be the better welfare set up but closer inspection shows the penned birds to be exhibiting all the correct behaviours expected from a content and healthy animal whereas the free rangers are an underfed and lice infested flock whose love of roosting outdoors is down to the fact their house is crawling with red mite.
Sure, providing an environment that’s is as natural as possible will contribute towards attaining the requirements of better welfare but it’s down to the keepers management and monitoring to ensure those levels of health, happiness and well-being are in fact achieved. A stockperson lacking in those skills is a liability to livestock welfare regardless of the setup they have for their animals.