Wednesday, 19 January 2022
FOUR thousand hens at a farm near Wargrave are in lockdown because of a national bird flu outbreak.
Strict measures have been introduced by the Government to prevent the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza, A(H5N1).
H5N1 is a sub-type of influenza which is fatal to birds and has been known to be contracted by humans on rare occasions.
Riverways Farm, off New Bath Road, produces free range eggs. It also has other animals including pigs, alpacas, pygmy goats, ducks and geese and a 15-strong herd of reindeer.
Andrew Cardy, who has run the business for 20 years, said: “It is a misery to have our hens locked up.
“My favourite farm job is letting the chickens out of their barn as they love exploring.
“Keeping them locked up is not what we want for them, being such inquisitive creatures, but we have to keep them protected from this virus.
“We try to keep contact with our hens to a minimum, so we only permit three checks a day.
“This means when I go into their barn, I must wear clean clothes and boots. Boots are sanitised in a bucket before and after entry. We wash our hands and wear protective gowns over our clothes each time we visit the chickens.”
On November 26, it became a legal requirement for all bird keepers, whether they are commercial or domestic, to keep their birds indoors.
The rule was imposed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency says the flu strain is highly contagious among birds and in most cases is fatal.
Mr Cardy said: “The disease is being spread around the country by migrating birds.
“While we have not had any alerts of cases near to us, it can spread quickly and could make our hens gravely ill. It is so severe that when one case is reported in a farm, all birds will be culled by Defra, which is extremely sad.”
The agency has provided a list of symptoms birds present when infected, which include watery eyes, unresponsiveness, lethargy, tremors, respiratory distress such as mouth breathing, swollen or blue-coloured wattles, loss of appetite and a lack of egg production.
Mr Cardy said: “While we conduct required health checks on our hens, I also believe a happy hen is a laying hen. We work really hard so that they are happy inside the barn. Egg quality is usually a direct indicator of whether the hen is happy or not.
“We want our hens to have the best quality of life possible. In winter, they tend not to like venturing out into the cold and rain.
“But the birds are curious by nature and they like to be kept occupied. We have designed things to hang in the barn to stop them getting bored like DVDs, milk bottles filled with grit and toys they can peck at.
“It’s nice to stimulate the hens to stop them getting bored, which they are in lockdown.”
Once the Riverways hens qualify for retirement, the farm looks to rehome them. They usually join families nearby as garden pets.
Mr Cardy advised people keeping hens at home as pets to take protective measures.
He said: “Firstly, it is so important to register your birds with Defra. When there are outbreaks of bird flu you will be alerted immediately and sent regular updates.
“Secondly, you must make sure that your birds are kept locked in their enclosure and do not wander around your garden.
“They should be fed inside their enclosures, which need to be kept as clean as possible. Food encourages wild birds, so you need to prevent contact from wild birds that may be carrying the flu.
“Lastly, make sure you are regularly washing your hands and clothes before and after contact with your birds.”
The agency says avian flu is commonly found in wild swans and geese. Between October 1 and November 29, it recorded 41 geese and 118 swans with the virus.
If you spot a deceased bird or suspect there is a wild bird with avian flu, call Defra on 03459 335577.
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