The annual threat of avian flu


Robert Frewen, Regional Surveyor for CLA North and keeper of hens for nearly thirty years, comments on the annual threat of avian flu.

Robert Frewen

Among the membership of the CLA there will be a very significant number who keep hens. Avian Flu, thankfully so far absent this winter, looks as though it might become an annual concern. 

Keeping hens to produce eggs for personal consumption has long been a feature of the countryside. Half a dozen hens guarded by a handsome cockerel have pecked away in orchards up and down the country for a millennium. Now called “backyard flocks”, they have come to the attention of DEFRA specifically in relation to the threat posed by avian flu.

Avian flu is generally spread by contact with infected wild birds where it is endemic, particularly in migratory wildfowl which is its primary route into this country. From them it is transferred either directly to free range poultry or via infection of non-migratory birds such as pheasants that happily mix with domestic poultry.

Whilst the problem is potentially upsetting for keepers of backyard poultry keepers like, it has the potential to devastate commercial poultry. An outbreak obliges free range egg producers to house their flocks, potentially losing them their free range status, and an infection will result in the slaughter of an entire flock.

DEFRA would like all poultry keepers to register their flocks – something that is mandatory if you keep more than fifty birds. Other precautions are listed on the website and include:

  • Minimise movement around the birds. Normally, only my wife and I ever mix with the birds
  • Clean footwear or, as I do, have a pair of wellies that never ever leave the holding
  • Control rats and mice – in my case the job of the sealyham terrier and two cats
  • Prevent wild birds from mixing with the flock and keep food and water away from them too – we use a self-closing feeder and keep the water inside the henhouse

There is more advice easily found on the web, but a final comment is that hobby keepers of poultry need to do their bit to help protect the livelihoods of their commercial cousins.