Lasers are being trialled on a Dutch free-range poultry farm to see if they can remove the threat of avian influenza contamination from wild birds.
Research into the use of lasers as a repellent for wild birds has been taking place since the 1970s, first as birdstrike prevention at airfields and then for dispersing wild birds causing agricultural crop damage. Dr Armin Elbers, senior epidemiologist at Wageningen University and Research, said the current study was looking at scaring wild ducks and other wild birds through a laser on a platform 6 metres above ground level. Speaking at an International Egg Commission (IEC) webinar, Dr Elbers said the free-range area is lasered between 5pm and 10am, with the surrounding pasture (up to 600 metres away) lasered at the same times.
One of the first farms to use lasers to scare wild birds was based in the UK, but the method was quickly introduced in the Netherlands too. Photo: Chris McCullough
- No wild birds were seen during the day in the surrounding pastures when the laser was in operation. The poultry farmer described the lack of geese as “stunning”.
- Far fewer Eurasian wigeons and mallards were encountered in the large waterway about 250m away from the free-range area barn while the laser was operative.
- Grass in the surrounding pastures was much more abundant due to the lack of geese feeding.
- Without the laser, wild ducks quickly returned to the waterway.
Dr Elbers mentioned that after the first night, there were no mallards present once the laser had been switched on. Without the use of the laser, mallards visited virtually every night.
Other research taking place includes the use of fluorescent powders at different spots outside the poultry barn, such as on concrete slabs around the barn, on the roof, in the roof gutters (to mimic the AI virus attached to wild bird droppings), to follow the transport of the powder. Video camera monitoring inside and outside the poultry barn is also being used in the Netherlands to detect how mice and rats, as well as people and equipment enter the barn to try to ensure that biosecurity measures are not breached.
Persistent AI pressure
Eric Hubers, chairman of the Dutch Poultry Farmers Association, said Dutch farmers faced regular outbreaks of highly pathogenic bird flu, which was persistent due to the nature of the country’s topography (lots of wetlands) and the extent of free-range production. Hubers said the Association was working with AVINED, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals to reduce the risk of outbreaks. As a result, an AI roadmap has been produced with 28 recommendations for producers covering biosecurity, monitoring and early warning signs, vaccination options and reducing the consequences of an introduction.