Back garden chickens and avian influenza precautions

Keeping Chickens in the Garden | The Nice Nest

Since 6 December 2016 there have been special measures in place to reduce the risk of avian influenza (bird flu) spreading.  This follows the announcement of outbreaks of the H5N8 strain in Europe and some UK sites.

It does not just apply to commercial poultry businesses.  Those of us keeping small backyard flocks are now required by law to house them (keep them under cover) or otherwise keep them separate from wild birds. This requirement (the Prevention Zone) has now been extended until 28 February 2017.

For nearly seven years now we have kept a little flock of chickens in the garden.  My mum first alerted us to the special measures on the day they were announced and since then we have kept our chickens inside their small pen.

Normally, they have the run of the garden but when we are out for the day, we keep them in the smaller pen as it is secure.  We have netting over the top to stop foxes getting in. You can read more about this in my post about chicken keeping.  We have now made sure that the sides of the pen are covered with smaller netting to prevent wild birds getting in too.

We clean the hen house once a week, changing bedding and disinfecting regularly to prevent mites and other parasites. The “girls” are checked daily to make sure they are healthy.

Our daily health checks for chickens

  • Looks perky and active
  • Nice firm comb which is bright red when the chicken is in lay
  • Bright eyes
  • Nose and eyes are clear from discharge
  • The vent (back end!) is clean with no lumps etc
  • Tail feathers are up

Last weekend, while checking the hens we realised we had a poorly chicken, our lovely white Daisy. She was walking about but looked hunched and her tail feathers were down.

Over the space of two days, her health went down rapidly and on Monday morning, I phoned the vets. Not sure whether the avian influenza measures would mean a vet visit, I asked if we could take her in and agreed that we would go to the surgery at 11am as the morning surgery finished.  That way, if it was an infectious disease they could sanitise the surgery before the afternoon session.

Unfortunately, Daisy had to be euthenized as it turned out to be a tumour growing on one side.  It was upsetting to lose a pet to something nasty but we were glad that she didn’t suffer for too long.  Also, we were relieved that it wasn’t a notifiable disease.

While Daisy was ill, I researched any additional checks we should make on the off-chance we are really unlucky and avian influenza comes our way.

How to spot avian influenza

There are 2 types of avian influenza.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the more serious type. It is often fatal in birds. The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:

  • Swollen head
  • Blue discolouration of neck and throat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fewer eggs laid
  • Increased mortality

Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species may show minimal clinical signs (ducks and geese).

Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious. It can cause mild breathing problems, but affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.

The severity of LPAI depends on the type of bird and whether it has any other illnesses.

For more information, see the UK Government site.

For those of us keeping chickens as pets or as part of a move towards self-sufficiency, these measures may seem like over kill.  However, I do believe that if you take on animals, you have a responsibility to look after them to the best of your ability and to follow any best practice recommended by experts.



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