Suffolk and Essex’s poultry farmers take steps against dangerous bird flu strain

Poultry keepers have been put on alert over a strain of bird flu.

Poultry keepers have been put on alert over a strain of bird flu. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

East Anglian egg and poultry producers have welcomed a series of measures aimed at keeping a dangerous strain of bird flu out of the UK as necessary to keep it at bay.

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

East Anglian egg and poultry producers have welcomed a series of measures aimed at keeping a dangerous strain of bird flu out of the UK as necessary to keep it at bay.

The government’s chief vet yesterday declared a ‘prevention zone’ in England, and ordered all keepers of poultry and captive birds to implement measures to protect bird against H5N8, which is currently circulating in Europe.

It requires commercial and individual poultry and captive bird keepers to keep their birds inside, or take steps to separate them from wild birds.

Commercial egg and poultry farmers in East Anglia were ensuring their birds were under cover yesterday, and checking on already strict biosecurity measures on farms.

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant


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Many farmed birds are already kept under cover, but free range birds are now being kept in the sheds which house them overnight, with ‘popholes’ or exits now left shut during the day in order to comply with the order. Poultry keepers and gamekeepers are also keeping a watch on the wild bird population, and have been warned to remain vigilant and report any issues.

Enrichment measures were also being put in place across poultry farms to help birds adjust to staying inside and ensure their welfare, East Anglian producers said.

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Luckily, the order arrived after turkey farmers began to slaughter birds for the Christmas market, minimising the impact upon those who rear outdoors.

The highly pathogenic avian flu has been found in dead wild birds in countries across Europe, from Poland to France, although no cases have been found in the UK. While it poses a problem to birds, the threat to humans from the strain remains very low, Public Health England (PHE) said.

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

The current prevention zone order will remain in place for 30 days, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said.

Free range egg producers have been pressing for the precautionary measure across East Anglia to protect against the risk of infection from wild birds.

Alaistaire Brice, who along with wife, Fiona, runs a egg packing operation, which trades as Havensfield Happy Hens, at Hoxne, near Eye, supplies free-range eggs to the East of England Co-op. The couple has 20,000 owned laying hens on two sites, and a further 110,000 contracted layers on 12 farms, totalling 26 flocks in Suffolk and Norfolk.

“We have been calling for this, certainly in the east area, in the last three or four weeks because of the number of cases (of avian flu) happening in northern Europe,” he said.

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

“It’s inevitable we are going to get a case I think in the UK and probably this is the right thing to do.”

The order provided some space in which the experts could work out what to do next, he said.

“We are quite lucky at the moment. We are only getting eight or nine days of daylight at the moment.”

Their main concern was that small-scale and hobby poultry keepers got their birds under cover and did not undermine efforts to keep the disease at bay, he said.

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

Although the order is in place for 30 days, free range producers can still continue to market as free range produce, provided the order did not extend beyond 12 weeks, he added.

He urged members of the public not to encourage wild birds to collect and congregate by feeding them at locations such as Needham Lake.

Turkey farmer Chris Mobbs, of Cratfield, near Halesworth, who rears 4,000 turkeys for the festive market said luckily they were all now indoors ready to be slaughtered, and this was likely to be case elsewhere. The order was probably more of an issue for free range geese producers, he said.

“It’s just a precautionary measure in case something comes over,” he said.

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

Poultry keepers like himself were used to managing the risk of disease, and discouraged wild birds through measures such as ensuring there were no open water areas that could be shared with wild birds. “It’s a blanket cover - your birds stay in - simple as that. It’s common sense,” he said of the order.

The producers said the UK industry was used to dealing effectively with disease outbreaks, and containing them.

Premium turkey producer Paul Kelly, of Danbury-based Kelly Turkeys, pointed out it was a precautionary measure.

“This time of year is horrible as the risks are enormous and the fact of the matter is - it is not ‘if’ we get another outbreak but ‘when’ as it will happen at some point in time,” he said.

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

“We desperately need an effective vaccine that we can use to protect the livelihoods of poultry farmers. It’s not just the loss of livestock that hurts, it’s the consumer’s over-reaction to any perceived risks of eating poultry that can destroy a business.

“It’s always stressful during the autumn months leading up to Christmas as we are at the mercy of the gods as to whether an AI Avian Influenza) outbreak will happen. If there were a case in Essex close to us, we would be out of business. Simple as that.”

The majority of turkeys - and geese - for Christmas will have been killed and plucked already, he added. These are hung in chilled conditions for the flavour to mature over the next seven to 10 days ready for evisceration and packing as oven-ready products for dispatch to butchers and other outlets or retained on the farm for collection by retail customers a day or two before Christmas Day.

He also pointed up another concern about the availability of labour for processing the turkeys and geese, which is mainly done by workers from Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania, Latvia and other Eastern European countries.

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

“I gather there was some reluctance to come this year as many feared they wouldn’t be welcome after the Brexit vote - as well as the devaluation of the pound meaning they take home less in euros or other currencies. Turkey farmers use to struggle to get workers from this country, sometimes limiting their ability to produce enough birds, then the availability of workers from Eastern Europe showed the way ahead - until now at least.”

DEFRA said it had increased its surveillance for the disease, and keepers are being urged to reinforce measure such as disinfecting clothing and equipment and making sure feed and water is not accessible to wild birds to prevent infection.

Government chief vet Nigel Gibbens Professor Gibbens said: “While no cases have been found in the UK, and PHE advises the public health threat is low, we are closely monitoring the situation across Europe and have scaled up surveillance in response to the heightened risk.

“As a precaution, and to allow time for poultry and captive bird keepers to put in place appropriate biosecurity measures, we have declared a 30-day prevention zone to reduce the risk of infection from wild birds.”

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

He added: “Even when birds are housed a risk of infection remains so this must be coupled with good biosecurity - for example disinfecting clothing and equipment, reducing poultry movement and minimising contact between poultry and wild birds.”

Poultry keepers are being advised to be vigilant for signs of bird flu and to call their vet promptly if they have any concerns.

Members of the public are also being asked to report cases of dead wild waterfowl such as swans, geese and ducks, or gulls, or five or more dead birds of other species to DEFRA.

British Free Range Egg Producers Association.

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

Robert Gooch, chief executive of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) said: “The decision to implement prevention zones in England and Scotland is a necessary step in response to the rapid spread of avian influenza (AI) across Europe.

“The risk of infection is from wild migratory birds who are leaving cold weather feeding grounds and could head to the UK, carrying with them the potential to bring the H5N8 strain to our shores.

“It would be devastating for a British producer to have to go through the heartbreak of seeing their entire flock wiped out by this virus as we have already seen in continental Europe.

“Housing birds presents significant challenges to free range egg producers but they understand that it is important to reduce the risk of AI spreading.

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

“It’s crucial for consumers to remember that AI is not a food safety issue and free range eggs will remain a nutritious staple of British diets.”

FACTFILE

The farmgate value of poultry in the East of England is about £600M

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

The total commercial poultry in Suffolk is about 8.3m birds

That includes 109,000 turkeys, 554,000 ducks and 6.4m broilers.

There are 127 specialist poultry farms in Suffolk (DEFRA 2013 statistics)

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 3

Alaistaire Brice, owns Havensfield Happy Hens and is a free range egg producer.DEFRA have placed a 30 day restriction on poultry farmers to keep all birds inside following an outbreak of avaian flu in continental Europe. - Credit: Archant

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