Chicken and Egg Issue 12 - page 16-17

To date stories of Avian Flu (AI) outbreaks
have mostly appeared far out of our reach,
but more recently the disease has come
closer to our shores. Only a few months ago
several outbreaks occurred in France – very
close to our flocks indeed - and then it
landed in Fife, Scotland.
So what is Avian Flu, what are the
implications for us all as hen keepers,
what impact on the egg industry could an
outbreak have and what should we do, as
responsible hen keepers, to help minimise
any threat of the disease?
AI is an infectious type of influenza that
spreads quickly amongst birds including
chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese. It is
often carried by migratory water birds and
the danger of AI reaching the UK is
Chicken & Egg. Welfare and Food Together.
Chicken & Egg. Welfare and Food Together.
Avian Influenza
Our responsibilities
We know it’s out there, we can’t see it but we know it’s not good for our hens, or us.
It pops up in the news every now and then, and then seems to disappear and we
carry on as normal without a care or thought for what might be around the corner.
‘It’ is Avian Flu, of course, and in the egg industry it strikes fear to the core.
heightened during the annual migration
The disease spreads from bird to bird by
direct contact or through contaminated
body fluids and faeces; it is not an airborne
disease. There are two types of AI, highly
pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the more
serious type and often fatal in birds. The
main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:
• swollen head
• blue discolouration of neck and throat
• loss of appetite
• respiratory distress such as gaping beak,
coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
• diarrhoea
• fewer eggs laid
• increased mortality
However, this does not mean that if your hen
has any of the symptoms it has the disease.
Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is
usually less serious, and can cause mild
breathing problems, although affected birds
will not always show clear signs of infection.
The severity of LPAI often depends on the
type of bird and whether it has any other
So what does this mean to us as backyard
hen keepers? Broadly speaking, if an
outbreak occurs, our birds are in danger of
infection. Wild birds can bring the disease
into your back garden and so whilst the
likelihood may seem remote, the wise hen
keeper will want to be kept informed and
knowwhat to do in the event of an outbreak
in the local area.
There are guidelines on how to protect your
birds should you be within an AI surveillance
zone. These include:
• Keeping your birds indoors if possible
• Not leaving food and water outside
where wild birds can congregate
• Being aware of your birds’ health
• Avoiding visiting live animal markets and
poultry farms
• Practising good personal hygiene, such
as washing your hands regularly
We strongly recommend that all backyard
flocks (that means your hens), regardless
of how many you keep, are registered
with the Animal and Plant Health Agency
(part of DEFRA). Why? Because if there is an
AI outbreak in your area you will receive a
text and/or email letting you know, and this
knowledge will allow you to take appropriate
measures to help protect your hens. The
service offered by DEFRA is something to
be welcomed, not feared or ignored. Here
are some of the questions they will ask you
through registration:
• Are you a hobby hen keeper?
• What poultry do you keep (ducks/
chickens/turkeys etc)?
• Why do you keep them? (there’s a ‘rescue
from slaughter’ option)
• What system do they come from?
• Do you live close to water?
• Can you protect them from wild bird
And that’s pretty much it; this information will
be stored by Defra and if all backyard hen
keepers completed registration Defra would
have a much better idea of just how many
hens are kept in the UK and we would all be
better informed about what to do to protect
our beloved hens should an outbreak arise.
From the industry perspective, an outbreak
of AI is devastating; the disease spreads
quickly and any infected site will be quickly
ring-fenced so infected birds can be culled
and exclusion zones set up to prevent
spread. However, it’s not just the loss of the
birds that impacts on farmers, an equally
devastating effect can result from what
is termed secondary clean-up costs after
the government has handled the primary
disinfection. Secondary clean-up legally
obligates farmers to undertake meticulous
cleansing and disinfection, under the
scrutiny of APHA, to ensure all trace of
infection has gone. This can take weeks
and have an obvious adverse impact.
At the moment Avian Influenza and how
best to handle it, with all its implications, is a
hot topic in the industry and whilst none of
us has the ability to prevent AI entering the
UK, we do and should all take responsibility
in helping to minimize the threat of disease
If you have more than 50 hens it is a legal
requirement to register. Contact APHA:
Tel: 0800 634 1112 or visit the website
This hen does not have Avian Flu. Photo for illustrative purposes only.
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