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Bird flu - preparation is key

Andy Cawthray - bird flu blog_40554

Poultry expert and Countryside columnist Andy Cawthray says the backyard poultry keeper needs to be ready for the arrival of bird flu.

Last year saw the introduction of preventative measures for poultry keepers in an attempt to stem the flow of bird flu from the Continent. The measures applied to all scales of poultry keeper – so, with that in mind, it’s time to prepare for the coming bird flu season. 

As yet there has been no ruling stating that the prevention measure will be implemented once more, however, only the short-sighted would not prepare for a winter the same as the last. 

Backyard keepers will have potentially found it difficult to house their stock, I know I did, we just don’t have the outbuildings to keep the birds indoors for weeks on end.

I know I also struggled to come up with a suitable solution to containing the stock in covered runs due to the lack of daylight during my working week and the high winds we are subject to here on the Shropshire/ Wales borderlands. It was a frustrating time to say the least.

This year though I’m prepared; using roof battens I’ve constructed a number of 8’ x 4’ aviary panels that are covered in fine gauge chicken wire. These will be leant against each other and combine together to create an ark-like run, cable tied together, capped at one end with another panel and abutted to the poultry house. 

This means that the free-range housing can be made secure. The structure is then covered in tarpaulin and pegged down. The trial and error of the last prevention period has established that this seems to do the job. 

The key is to start your preparations now. The prevention measures could be implemented in the next couple of months so getting ready now, while the daylight hours are lingering, makes sense. 

All the other housing (arks and chicken tractors) will also have tarpaulins placed over the run, which will protect the stock from contact with wild birds or wild bird faeces. Whilst these are moveable houses, they need to remain in position when the prevention measures are in place, so, where possible, I’ve built run extensions that can be added to the houses to increase the space available.  

Sadly, the last of my Indian runner ducks are now gone and I’ve made the decision not to replace them. I will miss the eggs and their characters around the place, but the pragmatist in me says I can’t give them the level of welfare I would be satisfied with during a period of prevention measures. 

:: The NFU has more Avian Influenza guidance available on NFUonline here.

Here are some tips that I found worked well for me:

Drinkers: Position them so that they can be filled by watering can from outside of the run. This limits the need to enter the run

Feeders: Keep them inside the housing 

Tarpaulin: buy a good stock of different sized sheets as back up for any that get damaged

Bungie
ropes and cable ties: These can just about fasten anything into place. Be sure to have a good stock of both

Wet weather: Think about the run-off and don’t create a cover on the housing that collects water or snow or you run the risk of the structure collapsing

Ground sanitiser powder: Buy some, as this will help to keep the ground moderately clean

Vermin: Deal with them at the first signs, don’t ignore them. Rodents, in particular rats, will thrive in the environment created when the prevention measures are invoked

Greens: Be sure to supply your flock with plenty of greens and pick up pumpkins when the Halloween glut arrives. They store easy enough and provide entertainment and feed for the flock.

Pallets: If the ground in the run is taking too much punishment, then put pallets down to lift the flock off the ground. Salvage some now and store them.

Sand: If the pop hole is at ground level, dig out a square yard of earth at least 12 inches deep and back-fill with sand. The drainage alone will help in keeping the house less muddy

Plan: If the restrictions are put in place then plan for the worst and assume they will be in place well into the new year

Consider your neighbouring poultry keepers: Help spread the word about the need for good biosecurity. If neighbours don’t comply with the prevention measures and their flock contracts avian flu, then no matter what efforts you have made in trying to keep your flock safe, you could be seriously impacted by their negligence. 

Most of all, remember welfare is a measure of the happiness and healthiness of your flock. Restricting their movements might not be everyone’s idea of optimum welfare, but good welfare is not on a sliding scale relative to the space and freedom the bird has, it’s about keeping them healthy, content and free from disease. 

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