Commercial poultry farms in Northern Ireland are currently on high alert for symptoms of avian influenza in their birds following a number of suspected cases of the virus.
A housing order is already in force for captive birds and poultry flocks after the presence of the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 was detected in wild birds in Northern Ireland. However, following 2 recent suspected outbreaks, the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland (Daera) has set up Temporary Control Zones in 2 locations following the separate outbreaks. A number of other outbreaks have been confirmed across the border in the Republic of Ireland.
Recently, 27,000 ducks, including breeding stock, were culled at a commercial farm after the birds showed symptoms of the virus. The farm, located at Aughnacloy in County Tyrone, is a major producer of ducks in Northern Ireland. Officials were first notified after the operator noticed a significant reduction in the number of eggs being produced by the ducks. Then, around 70 miles away, it emerged that a small backyard flock of 30 birds were also suspected to have the avian influenza virus and were also culled.
Daera is urging all Northern Ireland commercial flock owners to be extra vigilant and report any signs of the virus. An additional 3 cases across the border in County Monaghan have already been confirmed and the relevant safeguards put in place. One of the farms was a commercial turkey producer where 30,000 birds had to be culled.
The loss of the ducks on the Aughnacloy farm could be valued between £500,000 and £1million. Northern Ireland chief vet, Dr Robert Huey: “Although this is a commercial flock and there will be compensation for the birds that we cull, these are parent stock, which means they are of high genetic merit. We‘re taking out probably the entire breeding stock so that will take some time to recover and there won’t be compensation for that. There is a significant financial cost as well as the emotional response that any of these actions have to a farming family.”
Huey urged all poultry owners to protect their flocks: “Given this suspected incursion of notifiable avian influenza, we cannot afford to be complacent. I am speaking to those who have half a dozen birds in the garden, right up to those commercial flock keepers with thousands of birds; act now. You must adhere to all biosecurity measures to protect your flock. I am extremely concerned about the serious risk of spread and this is a very worrying development.”
There are big fears in the country that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg as the migration of wild birds that carry the virus intensifies throughout the winter period.
Meanwhile, the UK has experienced its largest ever outbreak of avian influenza, with numbers now topping 40 confirmed cases. This was announced just 2 weeks after a UK poultry housing order was implemented.