Chooks in Lockdown


After three and a half months of their own lockdown, poultry birds across the country on the 1st of April were allowed to finally leave their sheds, houses and coops. Their lockdown, known as a ‘housing order’, has many more draconian measures than what we experience. Birds across the United Kingdom have been shut up with no access to the outside; let alone a trip to the pub!
However stringent they were, the measures were in place to protect them from the ever-spreading Avian Influenza (AI), more commonly known as bird flu. Whereas COVID-19 shielding means keeping distance from your neighbours and the local shopkeeper, the bird flu super-spreaders are your every day, roaming wild bird.
You need to think of that beautiful duck tearing freely around the British countryside as an anti-masker flaunting lockdown laws, licking lampposts whilst heading to your local supermarket to study variations of kissing on numerous fruit and veg perishables. Unthinkable…. I’m sure!

Empty Chicken Range at Westleaze – image by Andrew Livingston

In the UK so far, it has been reported that over 250,000 birds have been culled due to contracting the disease and as a keeper of a large number of hens, we keep a close eye on how close to home reports of AI cases are coming up. For example, in November and December, there have been reported outbreaks in the Abbotsbury Swannery and Gillingham respectively.
With the unfeasible cost of insuring one shed of our birds against AI around £3500, we have to be doubly careful with our biosecurity when going on to our farm. Admittance into sheds is prohibited from any unnecessary visitors. For anyone that does enter the living space of the birds, known as the ‘specific bio-secure area’, has to ‘wear overalls, disinfect shoes and wash hands.
Most modern farms built today have a shower build by reception so visitors ‘must shower on and shower off’ site to ensure the tightest biosecurity. Imagine the queues outside your Tesco if you had have a quick full-body scrub before doing your shopping!
Thankfully, however, there are a few signs that lockdown measures won’t be necessary for the future. A recent study completed by Wageningen University, Netherlands, showed that the use of lasers around chicken houses and ranges sees a reduction in wild bird activity by 99.7%.
The lasers fire beams of light into the sky, which oncoming birds deem as an obstacle so they disperse from the area for protection. Admittedly, it is a drastic form of social distancing, but it is a possible method that would greatly deter possible infected birds and protect farmer’s livelihoods.
In a facsimile with our own pandemic, birds are being granted protection through the use of a syringe. In the Bergen aquarium in Norway, the penguins in the enclosure are having their second jabs against the disease. So expect to see a penguin in your local with their vaccine card soon, enjoying a cold one.

By: Andrew Livingston


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