If you keep chickens in your back garden, then no doubt, the breakouts we’ve seen over the last few years will have caused worry for you. Bird flu is a highly contagious viral disease that can infect a variety of bird species, including pet chickens and other poultry. It can cause severe illness and death in birds, and on rare occasions has also been transmitted to humans, which is why it is so important to protect your chickens from this virus.
Here are some practical steps you can take to protect your chickens from bird flu:
Keep your chickens indoors
When there is an outbreak of bird flu, the best way to protect your chickens from infection is to keep them in their coop. This will prevent them from coming into contact with wild birds that may be carrying the virus. Make sure your chicken coop is secure and free from any gaps or holes that could allow wild birds to enter. Remember, some wild birds are extremely small and can easily get through mesh with wide gaps. Consider using mesh with smaller gaps. You may also want to use netting or other barriers to prevent wild birds from landing on your coop or nearby trees.
Limit exposure to other birds
If you have other birds in your backyard, such as wild birds or other poultry, it is important to limit their exposure to your chickens. Make sure you clean and disinfect any shared feeders or water sources, and keep your chickens separate from other birds as much as possible. You can also consider providing separate feeding and watering stations for your chickens to minimise the risk of exposure.
Practice good hygiene
Good hygiene is key to preventing the spread of bird flu. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your chickens, their eggs, or their feed and water. Use separate footwear and clothing for handling your chickens and avoid tracking any dirt or debris into their coop. Regularly clean and disinfect the coop, feeders, and waterers. If you find dead wild birds in your garden, dispose of them promptly and safely.
Control rodents and other pests
Rodents and other pests can carry and spread bird flu, so it is important to control them around your chicken coop. Use humane traps to catch rodents, and keep the area around the coop clean and free of food that might tempt them.
Check regularly for signs of illness
It is important to check your chickens for signs of illness, as early detection and treatment can help prevent the spread of bird flu. Symptoms of bird flu in chickens include coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and a decrease in egg production. If you notice any of these symptoms, isolate the affected chicken from the rest of your flock as soon as possible and contact your vet immediately.
Follow biosecurity protocols
According to the UK government, all chicken keepers including those with a few pet chickens, must remain vigilant and help prevent bird flu by:
- housing or netting all poultry and captive birds
- cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing
- reduce the movement of people, vehicles or 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
- keep records of mortality, movement of poultry and poultry products and any changes in production
- thoroughly clean 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 is not accessible to wild birds
- prevent access by poultry to ponds and watercourses and ensure that birds are kept in fenced or enclosed areas
Bird flu is a notifiable animal disease. If you think your birds have it, you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. If you fail to do this, you may be prosecuted.
In conclusion, protecting your chickens from bird flu requires a combination of good husbandry practices and biosecurity measures. By following these practical steps, you can help prevent the spread of bird flu and keep your chickens healthy and safe. Remember, early detection and treatment are key to preventing the spread of bird flu, so be sure to monitor your chickens for signs of illness and contact your veterinarian if you suspect your flock has been exposed to the virus.