Bird flu restrictions – A farmer’s story

Photo: Daniel Blenkiron
Photo: Daniel Blenkiron

A broiler producer in the UK had to make some important decisions when he, for the second time in the space of just 1 year, was caught up in avian influenza restrictions following a case of highly pathogenic H5N1 near his farm.

In North Yorkshire, Daniel Blenkiron grows 500 acres of cereals and forage crops and rears 260,000 birds for the wholesale chicken market. He had some important decisions to make when the most recent case of H5N1 was confirmed in November following an earlier outbreak in December 2020.

An empty nest

He said the 2020 case had helped him prepare for the most recent outbreak even though he hadn’t been expecting it: “We happened to be empty at the time. It was in November and we were setting up the sheds for a new batch of chicks arriving. I received a phone call from a local veterinary practice who mentioned there may be a suspected case of AI in our area, so I decided to send a message out to some of my poultry contacts in the area and got a message back later to say it was one of these farmers.”

On this occasion, it put his farm within the 10km Surveillance Zone, and because he was setting up sheds for the new chicks on the Friday afternoon, ready for them to arrive on the Monday and Tuesday, there was no chance of getting a licence in time. The suspected case became a confirmed one.

Concerns

His next concern was that the next-door neighbour of the suspected cases, who was a free-range layer operation, could potentially have AI spread onto his farm, meaning that “we would only be 2.8km away. We kind of made the best decision because he put his birds away on that Friday night, and we set a date to place our chicks on the Thursday and Friday of the end of that week, and we got our licence in time.”

The chicks arrived as planned, and then 2 – 3 days later, on the Sunday afternoon, Blenkiron received a phone call from the farm 2.8km away to say they’d begun to see signs of AI. “My heart dropped. I didn’t want to believe it, as I was aware of the implications of being in the 3km Protection Zone (PZ) and we had literally just placed the chicks. My gut told me to delay it and I knew we probably should have done, but you never know – it’s hindsight.”

Close to Christmas

Blenkiron spoke to his vet and processor about the developments and found out that the PZ would merge with the Surveillance Zone (SZ) in time for the first batch of chickens to leave the farm. He checked with his neighbour when they were due to finish their primary cleansing and disinfection and learnt that the PZ would merge with the SZ a minimum of 21 days after this had been carried out.

“I kept the processors up to date with this information […] and had been informed by a local APHA officer that the predicted dates for the PZ restrictions to merge with the SZs was 23 December. We decided to try and take those birds rather than wait for that date with it being so close to Christmas, as it may not have lifted. There was too much uncertainty with that. Fortunately, the processor had applied for the Level 2 designation with the Food Standards Agency, and we had a few weeks to play with. They were eventually granted a Level 2 designation and we then applied for a licence straight away to take our birds. We had 8 loads of birds – we normally have 7 loads of smalls, but we took an extra load just to give us a bit more time in case the PZ merge with the SZ was delayed.”

Lessons learnt

Blenkiron offers the lessons that he has learnt:

  • Learn where the poultry farms are in your area and certainly those within 3km. Get their contact details and communicate with them if you have cases in the area.
  • Consider your options in terms of contingency plans – for example, delaying chick placement.
  • Familiarise yourself with the restrictions the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) introduces in Disease Control Zones. The NFU has produced a guide to AI Disease Control Zones.
  • Check with your processor to see if they are Level 1 or 2 designated and communicate with them so everyone’s sharing information. If you’re in the zone and your processor can take the birds, do try and take a few more out of the sheds, so it gives you more time. If you’re an egg producer or breeder then make sure your packing centre or hatchery also has the appropriate designation to receive eggs from within disease control zones.
  • If you have multiple enterprises, investigate whether it’s possible to get a separate CPH for your poultry unit (we did this last year after some of our arable land was within a 3km PZ).
  • Reach out to your local APHA officer, who can help plan ahead.
Mcdougal
Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist



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