Expert urges Suffolk farmers to keep poultry indoors after bird flu cases

Alaistaire Brice of Havensfield Happy Hens now has to bring his free range laying hens indoors after

Poultry keepers have been warned to keep their birds indoors by the UKs Chief Veterinary Officer - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The UK's chief veterinary officer has urged poultry keepers in Suffolk to keep birds indoors following a number of cases of avian flu.

Christine Middlemiss made the warning after a recent spike of cases in the county, with five new premises becoming infected in the last month alone.

Ducks at a farm near Redgrave in Suffolk are to be culled (file photo)

More than 30,000 ducks have been culled at farm in Redgrave - Credit: Archant

At one farm in Gressingham, about 35,000 ducks were culled after a case of bird flu was identified.

Housing measures were introduced by the government in November 2021 in order to minimise the spread of the disease.

This means that if people who keep chickens, ducks, geese or any other birds are legally required to keep them indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures. 

These measures apply to all bird keepers, from major commercial operations to families with a single pet chicken. 

The UK Health Security Agency has confirmed that the risk to public health is very low and the Food Standards Agency has said that bird flu poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers, and it does not affect the consumption of poultry or eggs.

Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss

Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss - Credit: Defra

Dr Middlemiss said: "We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease including by introducing housing measures.

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"However we are still seeing a number of bird flu cases both on commercial farms and in backyard birds right across Suffolk.

"Many poultry keepers in Suffolk have excellent biosecurity standards but the number of cases we are seeing suggests that not enough is being done by all bird keepers to keep bird flu out.

"Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you must take action now to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.

She continued: "The avian flu outbreak has not gone away and implementing scrupulous biosecurity remains absolutely critical.

"You must continue to regularly clean and disinfect your footwear and clothes before entering enclosures, stop your birds mixing with any wild birds and only allow visitors that are strictly necessary.

"It is your actions that will help keep your birds safe."

Poultry keepers must do the following:

  • House or net all captive birds to keep them separate from the wild population
  • Cleanse and disinfect clothing equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds
  • Change footwear before entering sheds housing poultry and captive birds
  • Reduce the movement of people, vehicles and equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept
  • to minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and use effective vermin control
  • thoroughly cleanse and disinfect housing on a continuous basis
  • keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all farm and poultry housing entry and exit points
  • minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water are not accessible to wild birds.
  • Store bedding so that it cannot be contaminated by wild birds
  • And ensure appropriate rodent control is in place in all areas where birds are kept, in addition to any areas where the birds' bedding or feed is kept

In addition, poultry and captive bird keepers are expected to be vigilant for signs of disease in their birds, and any wild birds, and seek prompt advice from a vet if they have any concerns. 

All bird keepers are encouraged to register their flocks with the government, although this is only a legal requirement for people with flocks of more than 50 birds. 

If you find dead swans, geese or ducks or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

Dead and sick birds should not be touched.

Bird keepers should report suspicion of disease in England to Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301