POULTRY FARMERS and pet bird keepers have been urged to prepare for the Avian Flu threat this winter.

In a joint statement released by the Chief Veterinary Officers across the UK, the message was loud and clear – that all poultry keepers must act now to reduce the risk of disease over the coming months. With a cold winter forecast, concern over the risk of disease spreading from migrating birds is increasing and good biosecurity must be top of the agenda.

Some of the key measures include keeping bird living quarters clean and disinfected and urging staff and visitors to clean footwear before and after entry to those area. Bird keepers have also been asked to place birds’ feed and water in enclosed areas away from wild birds and to make sure good fencing limits their access to ponds in areas visited by wild waterfowl.

The CVOs stressed that these measures should apply equally to those running large commercial farms as well as those keeping only a few garden birds or rearing game birds. They have also suggested, where possible, that flock managers avoid keeping ducks and geese with other poultry species.

Since June 2017, there have been no detections of avian influenza in poultry or kept birds in the UK, with the result that the country has retained its OIE country freedom status since September 2017.

The joint statement by all four of the Chief Veterinary Officers in the UK said: “Avian flu continues to circulate in many parts of the world and with the colder months upon us the risk of disease from migrating birds is increasing. It is critical that all keepers of poultry, including game birds and pet birds, act now to reduce the risk of transmission of avian flu to their flocks.

“Good biosecurity should be maintained at all times, including regularly cleaning and disinfecting the area where you keep birds and separating them from wild birds wherever possible.

“Keepers should also ensure they register on the Great Britain Poultry Register and we are pleased that new forms are now in place to simplify this process. Keepers in Northern Ireland must register their birds on the DAERA Bird Register. This can now be completed and submitted on-line.”

Through registering their birds, the government can contact individuals in the case of an outbreak and provide information on the steps to take to limit the chances of their birds getting the disease.

Last winter, the H5N6 HPAI strain of bird flu was only detected in wild birds and there were no outbreaks in domestic birds, either in commercial or small holdings. Although there have been no such wild findings in the UK since June 2018, the virus is still circulating in wild birds in North Europe (including Denmark and Germany) and has caused outbreaks in poultry. In addition, the H5N8 HPAI virus continues to circulate in Eastern Europe, highlighting the need to stay vigilant.