BEIC veterinary advisor Ian Lowery has provided the following warning and advice:
With a huge number of wild bird cases and the sky full of migrating waterfowl it would be safe to assume that the virus is already on your premises, on the roofs of poultry houses, on the range and on yards (whether muddy or concrete). THE VIRUS IS ON YOUR FARM(S) AND IS CONSTANTLY CHALLENGING YOUR BIOSECURITY. IT IS WAITING FOR A CHANCE TO INFECT YOUR FLOCK(S).
So, what should you do?
1. CONSIDER IN DETAIL about how your farm works – movements of vehicles (egg lorries, muck trailers, feed deliveries), equipment (maintenance tools, trailers) and staff (egg collectors, maintenance staff, muck haulage). Critically assess each of these activities and review whether there are robust procedures so that access to the site, the service area and the bird area is made as safe as possible.
2. WATCH your staff and contractors entering the site, moving around the site, and entering the house. Are they following your rules? Are wheel washers being used? Are vehicles clean? Do procedures need improving? Do staff need educating/reminding?
3. REMIND your staff – Explain the danger and the risk and explain the consequences of a failure of biosecurity - spend time to train and reinforce. Ensure that Everyone is aware of his/her responsibilities and are able to navigate the biosecurity barrier properly.
4. BARRIERS should prevent muck or dirt from the outside being moved inside and vice versa. Properly used, barriers require staff to remove outside shoes on the outside of the barrier and put on dedicated inside footwear on the other side of the barrier. Use of plastic overboots at barrier points is NOT recommended. Plastic overboots tear after a few steps and allow the muck from outside to be introduced into the bird environment.
5. DOUBLE BARRIERS are better than a single barrier. A step-over barrier at the entrance of the service area, with dedicated service area footwear (e.g. crocs/clogs) and a second step-over barrier at the entrance to the bird accommodation area (e.g. coloured wellies) will significantly reduce the chance of introduction of disease. Anyone caught wearing the wrong shoes in the wrong area should be instantly identifiable and reprimanded.
6. MAINTENANCE – Ensure the roof of the poultry house does not have holes, ensure that back doors are watertight and sealed, ensure guttering works, ensure that outside concrete aprons are kept washed and disinfected. The fabric of the building MUST prevent wild bird access and MUST not allow weather conditions to wash in an infectious viral cocktail.
7. MULTI-TIER systems – you are urged to take additional measures to control the risk of walking virus in from the muck cross-belt area, often located after the barrier biosecurity but before the entrance to the bird accommodation area at the front of the house. Additional footdips, or footwear changes, are strongly recommended in this area as the cross-muck belt can allow wild bird faeces to be introduced into this area. Management of regular muck collection and the additional vehicle movements associated with muck collection from multi-tier units also require additional controls.
Please, please, heed this warning. Do not be complacent. Act now to safeguard your business and the wider industry against further spread of this devastating disease.
Birds are housed yet again in 2020 and now four years on from the outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in the winter of 2016/17, free range producers face the HPAI H5N8 virus’s risk or face movement restrictions and licensing in a 10km restricted zone.
While some may consider these issues bad enough, free range producers in 2016/17 also had to worry about whether they would lose income due to their eggs being downgraded from free range to barn as a result of an extended housing order. On the 14th December 2020 we again enter a housing order, but it is timely to reflect on the issues which faced producers in 2016/17 when DEFRA applied a housing order and see what similarities there are with today.
The last two major HPAI outbreaks were in 2005/6 and 2016/17. In 2005 we were facing H5N1, which was potentially far more serious for humans, but it did not involve any housing orders in the UK or the EU, although the Dutch did house. Thus, because the virus behaves differently in H5N8, the 2016/17 epidemic provides a better experience for this upcoming season.
Comparison ‘2005/2006 H5N1’ with ‘2016-2017 H5N(8)’ epidemics
The 2016-2017 outbreak of H5N8 HPAI in the UK consisted of ten infected premises, distributed across six distinct geographical areas of England and Wales: Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Suffolk, Carmarthenshire, Yorkshire, and Northumberland.
Three of the outbreaks, in Carmarthenshire, Yorkshire and Northumberland were on single smallholder premises. The three infected premises (IPs) in Lincolnshire were turkey units, and the three infected premises in Lancashire were game farms and were all associated with one business enterprise. The premises in Suffolk was a broiler breeder unit.
Apart from the game farms in Lancashire, all the outbreaks resulted independently from direct or indirect primary incursions from wild birds. The IPs in Lancashire involved a subsequent spread between related premises as a result of business activities.
The links to wild birds were consistent throughout 2016/17, and the same pattern is forming this autumn as we move into winter. Indeed the worrying aspect of this winter’s pandemic is that it has started much earlier than in 2016, making any decision on the timing of any housing order that much more important.
Back in 2016/17, DEFRA confirmed 38 different wild bird species as carriers across the EU. These were:
The most significant carriers were ducks, but gulls were increasingly suspected in the UK as the pandemic continued into February 2017. This autumn, wigeon ducks have been associated as the main carriers in the Dutch poultry outbreaks and in the first UK infected premises in Cheshire. This site borders the Mersey and Dee estuaries, common wintering sites for wigeon, which have migrated down the continental European seaboard and across to the Mersey and other English estuaries.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Poultry, Captive and Wild Birds. September 2016 – June 2017
So while the 2016/17 and 2020 outbreaks follow similar patterns in terms of virus strains and wild birds as carriers, the one difference is that this year the pattern has started earlier. Cases in western Europe did not begin until the middle of November in 2016, but this year the first commercial poultry case was notified in the Netherlands in October, together with many wild bird cases.
While we received early warning of the approach of H5N8 from a similar but more widespread pattern of infection in Russia in June, with many Russian poultry farms infected in July, it was a shock to find the first wild bird case in Holland in early October. In 2016 the virus spread southward into Hungary, Bulgaria, and Italy rather than into western Europe, as has happened this year.
The map opposite shows the cases so far this year. It is striking how, apart from the poultry farms in southern Russia, the vast majority of central Europe has been unaffected so far compared to 2016/17 (map above). The infection has followed the East Atlantic wildfowl flyway direct to the UK.
The timeline of events for the HPAI epidemics is summarised in the table below. It indicates that this year’s epidemic is not only some 6-8 weeks ahead of events in 2016 but is also geographically more focused on western Europe and the UK than central Europe.
Indeed, this year’s first EU and UK poultry IPs are approximately six weeks ahead of 2016, as is the number of wild bird cases. The second HPAI H5N8 IP’s timing is nearer to 8 weeks ahead of what would have been expected.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Poultry, Captive and Wild Birds. May – November 2020 (Overlay: Migratory Bird Flyways)
Given the rapid onset of the virus and the probability that it would remain a risk to free range flocks until mid-April (as in 2017), the timing of the implementation of a housing order is vitally important. Producers are only guaranteed to maintain a free range egg premium price for up to 16 weeks of housing. After that, the risk of free range eggs being downgraded to ‘barn’ is a real risk.
The table on the previous page shows (in red) the policy decisions made by the UK’s devolved administrations. In 2016 a housing order was imposed by the English, Scottish and Welsh Governments on 11 November (N. Ireland imposed one a little later), before there was a single case of infection in the UK. At the time, the industry supported such a move thinking that it would only be in place for 30 days, but it was rolled over time and again and was not lifted in England until 13 April. However, the free range marketing status of eggs expired on 28 February 2017, and this led to a very difficult period of uncertainty for producers with a conflict between industry, retailers, and Government.
The requirement for housing within Higher Risk Areas (HRAs) from the 28 February created tensions between producers on either side of a HRA boundary. This was particularly evident between producers on the English side of the Severn. They had to risk losing their free range premium due to the housing order while those on the Welsh side of the Severn were unaffected.
Even within BFREPA, policy decisions were conflicted by those members outside HRAs, who did not see the problem, and those stuck within a HRA who risked having their eggs downgraded.
Throughout January and February 2017 different solutions to the free range marketing status problem were explored by BFREPA, and other industry representatives, to find a compromise that would allow housed free range flocks (in HRAs) to maintain their free range egg marketing status.
As the egg marketing rules derive from EU regulations (and this will continue – for the time being- even after Brexit), all parties hoped that the EU would solve the problem. The Dutch (supported by the Belgians) placed the issue on the AOB of an EU Agriculture Council meeting in January. They did not apply – as hoped – for a derogation to the EU egg marketing regulation but asked for exceptional measures to be used to tackle market disruption in the Common Market Organisation. The UK Government did not support this or any other EU member state proposal to resolve the problem. No EU solution emerged.
At the national level, the industry argued that the housing element is removed from the AIPZ and replaced with enhanced biosecurity measures that could make a valid reduction in the risk of disease transmission while allowing hens on to the range. This line of work provided some hope but relied on a Defra risk assessment to show that these enhanced measures could be effective.
The third strand taken by some in the industry was to take legal advice/Council’s opinion on how the EU’s egg marketing regulations were being currently interpreted by Defra (with regard to the 12-week derogation) in the UK.
The final and ultimately most successful approach was via the supply chain. The challenge to retailers and packers of re-labelling and creating new packaging for shell egg and egg ingredients, assuming they had to be downgraded from FR to barn, led to a labelling solution brokered between British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
The proposed solution was an over-sticker, which would be stuck onto existing FR packaging. This would have to be applied manually in some cases if a packer did not have the automated machinery to do this. While this did involve extra labour cost for some, it remained an eminently more practical solution than to produce barn packaging, which would lead to wastage, remove the free range premium and seriously damage the longer-term image of free range.
While the BEIC/BRC solution worked for Lion producers supplying packers, BFREPA produced labels for members who were self-marketeers or non-Lion producers. On the sticker, BFREPA mocked up some words to satisfy legal opinion on the labelling rules.
Lion scheme members labelled all free range packs with the agreed words as requested by retailers, regardless of whether eggs were being laid by flocks housed (in HRAs) or not housed (outside HRAs). As it was considered important to keep marking eggs on farm, and to avoid costly change to print heads, the number ‘1’ was still printed on eggs.
The retailers (BRC) required that pack labels accompanied by shelf labelling, point of sale information, and a website for consumers to obtain further information to keep consumers fully informed and not misled.
While this solution resolved the crisis in 2017, there is no guarantee that the same approach would work in 2021. The government never challenged the over labels used and kept quiet throughout the crisis in 2017, although it could easily have picked holes in the label’s compliance with the egg marketing regulations.
Having observed the supply chain solution in 2017, the Government may not take such a relaxed approach this time.
If devolved Governments had followed the 2016 experience and had applied a housing order as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone on 11 November this year, producers would again have to worry about their free range egg marketing premium after 1 March next year.
In 2017 the Housing order (AIPZ) in England was lifted on 13 April. If this was repeated in 2021, the housing order would have to come into force on or after 22 December for flocks to maintain their free range marketing status throughout housing.
Planning for the logistics of turnaround is a big undertaking, but carrying out a thorough cleaning and disinfection process is critical to maximising the performance of the incoming flock.
With the free range sector facing a growing number of challenges, producers cannot afford to hinder flock performance by allowing a build-up of micro-organisms in their housing. As turnaround times get tighter, the opportunity to rest buildings inbetween flocks has been lost, meaning the quality of cleaning and disinfection is more important than ever.
Lancashire based cleaning specialist Steve Birchall told us that even low disease levels can drag profits back and that skimping on the cleaning routine between flocks is a false economy.
“Too many producers regard cleaning as a ‘must do’, that is purely a mundane and uninteresting chore, however nothing could be further from the truth”, Steve said. “Cleaning should be seen as an integral part of a production system which can have a significant impact on performance, costs, and profits”.
Steve first began cleaning poultry sheds in 1985 with a small van and an electric washer, but he now operates nationwide with three cleaning teams specialising in free range and multi-tier systems.
He said: “Older buildings are often more difficult to clean than modern ones, but if you are going to do the job at all then it is worth doing properly and you have to commit enough time. This is particularly the case in laying units because the nest boxes and equipment have been in place for 12 months or more”.
The process consists of two distinct but interrelated stages – cleaning and then disinfection.
“Cleaning is essential for removing the environment in which pathogens thrive and to expose them to the subsequent disinfection. You cannot disinfect dirt and unless it is removed the pathogens will be protected from disinfectant”, Steve explained.
“This cleaning phase is crucial, but it is not simply a case of taking an ardent approach with a high pressure power washer. Whilst you can blast away some soiling, you will not remove the fats and proteins which make up the dirt on walls and other surfaces. In addition, the use of high pressure creates an aerosol effect which can actually spread the pathogens and make the problem worse”, he continued.
“Using a chemical detergent ensures that soiling is removed before disinfection, resulting in a reduction in bacterial levels prior to restocking, giving the new birds the best possible start”.
Once the poultry unit is clean, then a Defra approved disinfectant can be used.
Steve said: “I personally believe that it is good to regularly switch what disinfectant you use, do not stick with the same one – sometimes a change is as good as a rest. All of the products should be biodegradable and safe, should there be a run-off into a watercourse”.
Growing resistance to antibiotics is pressuring the industry to explore alternative ways to reduce pathogen risks to birds and Steve believes that more efficient cleaning processes, combined with strict biosecurity, are an obvious starting point.
He said: “New stock are under stress brought about by a combination of factors, including transport, handling, and vaccination, so the more that can be done to reduce disease threats, the better. There is real scope to improve the effectiveness of cleaning all types of poultry housing, but the starting point is a change of mindset”.
Whilst some producers choose to carry out cleaning and disinfection themselves, Steve claims that it is worthwhile investing in a professional outfit who are experienced in the process.
He explained: “Many producers simply do not have the time to master the techniques, if there are different enterprises on the farm they have to keep breaking off to do other work. Individually talking through each case with a professional means that the right course of action can be prescribed and it takes the headache of cleaning away from the farmer so they can get on with their day to day work”.
David Hodson of Rosehill Poultry Vets noted that keeping flocks for longer means that cleaning and disinfection at turnaround is even more important.
He said: “One of the main challenges we are now facing in longer lived birds, on both newly established and older sites, is to keep getting the basics right. A thorough terminal disinfection and cleaning protocol is a must, because if the birds are staying 20 weeks longer, then there will be an equivalent extra viral and bacterial load within the shed that must be eliminated before new birds are housed”.
David drew particular attention to the importance of the cleaning and disinfection process in preventing the build-up of red mite populations.
“On turnaround the temperature of the house will drop as soon as the birds are depopulated, because the mite has evolved to go to ground when the food source is no longer present, we need to take a tactical approach to eliminate them”, he said.
“Several sites have gone to 30 weeks before the red mite challenge has returned again, thus taking the birds through a large part of the most challenging period. This ensures that the level of stress on the birds is minimal throughout the early weeks”.
He also offered some advice on the different disinfectants for hitting red mite: “The disinfectant, interkokask, used at a rate of 3% is lethal, whilst Chlorocresol, Propionic, and Phosphoric have shown excellent effectiveness used at an approximate rate of 11 litres in 350l of stock solution”.
“When choosing your product, ensure you take into account Defra trial work, as this work is completely independent of the manufacturers. Looking at this work the two standout products that are available consist of Interkokask and Intercid. Intercid is comprised of Glutaraldehyde and Formaldehyde which are particularly effective against Salmonella when used at the correct rate”.
Like Steve, David stressed the importance of thoroughly removing all organic matter from the system.
He said: “An insecticide that has been fogged will struggle to penetrate a system that has organic matter present. When looking for mites there are key spots which offer the mites safety. The areas under the drinking line clips, in the joints of the metal infrastructure and underneath, and dried on muck or dust will all be replete with mite in a challenged house on turnaround”.
He continued: “The greater the investment in ensuring your new flock is housed in clean, sterile, oocyst and worm free environment, the greater the chance the flock will go on to perform well. Performance of a laying flock is reliant on many factors, the stress of disease challenge is a key factor and could be the deciding factor”.
BFREPA’s ‘Final Cleansing and Disinfection Contingency Planning Workbook’ can be found on the association’s website and provides producers with a way of being prepared for an avian influenza outbreak, and also sets out the cleansing and disinfection process should the worst happen.
This is based upon the same process that most producers will go through at turnaround and involves removing litter and brushing everything down, before applying degreaser, blasting off any visible contamination, rinsing everything top to bottom at a lower pressure, and then applying the disinfectant. The primary difference between this and clean down during turnaround is that the process has to be carried out at least twice.
Julian Sparrey is Technical Director of Livetec, a company that specialises in the slaughter and clean-up operations on infected sites, he also helped to write the workbook with BFREPA. He offered an insight into the cleaning and disinfection process after an AI outbreak.
“It is more complex because you have to work with APHA and adhere to their guidelines”, he told us. “In the case of an outbreak you have to draw up a plan with them, which is based on your usual process at turnaround, and adapt it to their requirements”.
“The procedure seems very straightforward, but it’s formulaic nature can lead to problems. It does not take into account procedures for things like unpacking slats or taking nest boxes apart, which make the process more complex than APHA’s plans allow for and can throw up issues regarding the order in which things are done”.
He continued: “Any repairs to the housing must also be completed before substantial cleaning. For example, rotten boards and cracks in the concrete have to be dealt with because contamination can be held in them and APHA will not lift restrictions until they are dealt with”.
Julian also told us about how producers need to treat the range following an outbreak.
“A couple of free range units were hit by AI this year, so APHA have worked out how they want to deal with ranges practically”, he said.
“Producers must leave the range for 56 days and keep the grass short, as they are relying on sunlight getting down onto the soil to kill any remaining virus. APHA will also want any areas of the range that are muddy or rutted, as well as any area that has been under a mobile house, to be cultivated out, treated with lime, and then rolled back down. Similarly, any parts of the range that are bowl shaped, or liable to creating areas of standing water, are expected to be filled in and dealt with”.
Preventing the potentially devastating consequences of rodent infestation on free range poultry units requires careful planning and early action combined with the use of effective rodenticides.
An integrated rodent management strategy should, of course, be based on the premise that ‘prevention is better than control’, as this will provide the best, most cost-effective long-term solution. However, where rodents cannot be prevented it is essential to control them quickly and efficiently.
Under the new regulations which came into law in April 2016, which affects all free-range poultry buildings, you have to prove that you have a problem before taking action, or that the risk of allowing a problem to develop poses such a risk that you have to go immediately to the control stage.
In theory, if you have a new free-range building then you should not bait immediately to prevent a problem from developing, as would have been the case in the past, but rather let it occur and then initiate control measures. However, every situation is different and it all comes down to a question of managing risk, so you need to know what actions are allowed and what are not. For example, if you have a proven rodent problem you then have just 42 days to clear up an infestation, or prove that it still exists.
Rodent control is fundamental to the efficient, profitable operation of any poultry unit. Unfortunately, poultry houses, whether on a conventional broiler/layer unit, or free range site act as a magnet for rodents by providing them with three fundamental requirements - a place to live, a source of food and access to water.
The months of autumn are particularly important for monitoring and controlling rodents. With harvest completed in surrounding fields, outside sources of food starting to dwindle and temperatures starting to drop, particularly at night, they are moving from fields and ditches to environments which offers food and shelter. This is a time to be extra-vigilant, because once established they will already have inflicted considerable physical and financial damage, while controlling them becomes more difficult, time consuming and expensive.
Just because you do not see rats or mice doesn’t mean that they are not there and even if you’ve only seen one or two there are likely to be hundreds on site. Rodents breed at a prolific rate and a single pair can quickly populate an area, so you have to kill a very high percentage to achieve effective control. That requires knowledge, skill and attention to detail, as the action which can be taken and the products allowed are now tightly regulated.
Producers will probably have insufficient knowledge or experience to spot the early signs of infestation and by the time they do it could be too late. Controlling rodents is such an important aspect of free-range production that if you don’t have the time or knowledge to do it yourself to a high standard then enlist the help of a professional pest controller with specialist knowledge of rural situations. An experienced pest controller who check sites frequently should be able to spot the signs of even a single or small number of rodents, allowing them to implement early, effective control measures using proven methods, correct techniques and fast-acting and effective products.
It is very difficult to get on top of a rodent infestation on a free range unit when your birds are still housed. Mice are the main problem in free range units as the sheds allow access during the day and at night the open feed tracks provide all the food they need to survive and thrive. It is therefore vital to use baits which are formulated to deal with infestations quickly and reliably.
Under the new regulations the first step is to put down monitoring bait to confirm the presence of rodents. Monitoring blocks or pastes, for example, are non-toxic and contain a substance that makes rodent urine glow under ultra-violet light, allowing much easier detection. If that yields positive results take action to control them immediately using proven methods, correct techniques and fast-acting bait.
Many cheap block-type baits are now ineffective so it is vital to use one of the new-generation products that are highly palatable and which rodents will want to consume in preference to the food which they have readily available. To ensure that they consume a lethal dose select one of the latest grain or pasta-based products which are appealing, fast-acting and highly effective.
Under the new regulations a paste-style Bromadiolone-type bait, such as Lodi Jade, is ideal as it contains mulched cereals and peanut butter oils to encourage consumption. A Difenacoum-based product containing peanut oils, is proven in the most difficult environments while a Brodifacoum-based bait formulated from premium grade cereals and peanut butter oil, will kill rodents in a single feed.
The early signs of rodents often go unnoticed to the untrained eye and by the time they become obvious numbers are high. Don’t wait for a problem to develop before investigating. Monitor the site frequently for early signs of activity, minimise its attractiveness to rodents and reduce its ability to support large populations.
Here are some of the points to consider.
• Rats and mice are quite different in terms of lifestyle and activity. Rats generally live outside in burrows and only venture indoors in search of food, whereas mice often live entirely indoors. They will be your main adversary.
• Continually monitor for signs of activity, such as droppings, urine, rub and tail marks, tracks and damage to the fabric of buildings caused by gnawing. If more than a few are present you should be able to smell them.
• Clear up any food spills around feed bins, although there’s nothing you can do to stop poultry from spilling feed as they eat, which makes the job more difficult. The moisture and oils in feed will keep mice hydrated, but they will like to supplement this with water from drinkers, while broken eggs provide a source of food and liquid.
• Keep the area around buildings clear of vegetation and clutter. This will act deter rodents due to the risk of predation and allow you to spot signs of activity more easily.
• Free range hens will keep the length of the grass to a low level, but if there are places around the houses where this is not happening then it should be cut, as long grass attracts rodents and helps bacteria and viruses to survive.
• Ideally, the area surrounding the free-range poultry houses should have an area that is at least 2m wide which is not grass, such as gravel, bark chippings or similar material.
• It is virtually impossible to make a poultry house totally rodent-proof, but regardless of how well it is constructed it provides an open door during the day.
• Shut pop holes as soon as it gets dark and the birds are inside – the lights in the shed will deter rats, but not mice
• Outside, bait containers should be positioned adjacent to walls some time before baiting begins so they become familiar. Inside, secure bait boxes should be located where there are signs of activity, or rodents are likely to track. Check, and re-fill, them until fresh activity ceases and your rodent problem has been contained.
• Burrow baiting is very effective against rats and reduces the risk to non-target species. However, you must follow the ‘little and often’ principle and be able to retrieve unconsumed bait.
At turnaround, you really have to take fast, effective action to clear up rodents. The race is on from the time the previous flock leaves and throughout the two weeks before the new birds come in. As soon as the buildings are empty put bait stations wherever there are signs of activity. Ideally, you don’t want rodents to leave the building, but that’s unrealistic, because when they are cleared of muck and the cleaners move in rodents will run for cover, heading anywhere that provides refuge.
To be effective you have to kill 90%-95% of the rodent population indoors and the remainder outside using strategically sited bait stations. This necessitates the use of products that will work quickly, reliably and effectively, so I would suggest a past-type bait such as Lodi’s Ruby, a Difenacoum-based product containing peanut oils which is proven in the most difficult environments. This should be followed by Lodi Sapphire, a Brodifacoum-based bait formulated from premium grade cereals and peanut butter oil, which will kill rodents in a single feed.
Keeping on top of rodent populations can be done, but requires constant monitoring, sustained effort and highly-effective products.
Any keeper of poultry (including game birds and pet birds) or other captive birds irrespective of how they are kept, must take appropriate and practicable steps, that can be demonstrated to an inspector on request, to ensure that–
(1) precautions are taken to avoid the transfer of virus contamination between premises, including cleansing and disinfection of equipment, vehicles and footwear. Where there are more than 50 poultry or other captive birds, place foot dip containing Defra-approved poultry disinfectant at strategic points including at the entry and exit of all houses or outdoor areas where birds are kept, and footwear must be cleaned using the dips on entry and exit or alternatively footwear should be changed when moving between bird and non-bird areas;
(2) feed, water and bedding are stored to minimise the risk of virus contamination;
(3) effective vermin control is carried out in any part of the premises where poultry or other captive birds are kept;
(4) the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from the part of the premises where poultry are kept is reduced to only essential movements for looking after their welfare, collecting eggs and feeding;
(5) records are kept (other than in a zoo) of all vehicles that enter any part of the premises where poultry are kept and of all people who come into any direct contact with the poultry.
(6) records of poultry, captive birds and egg movements must be kept and made available to an inspector or veterinary inspector on demand. Records should include:
(7) buildings that house the birds are maintained and any defects that allow water ingress or other contamination to enter the building are rectified without undue delay.
Outdoor range areas (all outdoor areas where poultry (including game birds and pet birds) or other captive birds have access) must be fenced to keep birds within the range and must be actively managed by the keeper to ensure that–
(1) the range area is not contaminated with feathers or faecal material from wild birds and take all reasonable steps to remove such contamination that may be present;
(2) access to open or permanent standing water is restricted by fencing off and netting ponds, standing water, or waterlogged land to prevent access by poultry or other captive birds;
(3) there is no direct contact with poultry or other captive birds on other neighbouring premises;
(4) ducks and geese should not be kept in the same pen or building as other poultry species;
(5) feed and water are kept indoors and birds are fed indoors or under a covered area which sufficiently discourages the landing of wild birds and thereby prevent contact by wild birds with their feed or water;
(6) measures are in place to ensure that wild birds are not attracted to areas under the control of the keeper, in the vicinity of the outdoor area, in particular to watercourses, reservoirs, ponds or other standing water;
(7) proactive measures (for example, bird scarers, foils, streamers) are taken to discourage wild birds, in particular gulls and wild waterfowl, from entering the fenced outdoor areas;
(8) any carcases of wild birds are removed from the outdoor fenced range area; and
(9) there is regular cleaning and disinfecting of all concrete walkways, paths and similar surfaces to which poultry or other captive birds or wild birds have access.
(1) Any keeper of more than 500 poultry must, in addition to the minimum measures set out in Schedule 1, apply the following enhanced biosecurity measures in these separate parts of the poultry premises–
(a) a poultry (live-bird) part (for example, in the Lion code this area is referred to as the ‘Specific’ area; and in Red Tractor as ‘defined biosecure areas’);
(b) a private (ancillary use) part (for example, in the Lion code this area is referred to as the ‘General’ area; and in Red Tractor as ‘defined biosecure areas’); and
(c) a restricted access (bio-secure barrier) part.
(2) The following measures apply to a poultry (live-bird) part of the premises–
(a) access is restricted to essential authorised personnel only;
(b) keepers must operate effective barrier hygiene, including changing clothing and footwear, before entering and on exit from the live-bird part;
(c) only essential equipment and vehicles are permitted to enter the live-bird part;
(d) the exterior of any vehicles, including fork-lifts and pallet trolleys (particularly wheels and wheel arches) and equipment which enter or leave the live-bird part of the premises must be cleansed and disinfected on both entry and exit; and
(e) thorough cleansing and disinfecting (based on industry best practice) of housing and equipment must be undertaken at the end of a production cycle and before new birds are introduced; and
(f) records must be kept of vehicles and personnel entering and leaving the live-bird part.
(3) The following measures apply to a private (ancillary use) part of the premises–
(a) access is limited to essential personnel only, and full biosecurity practices should be adopted on entry and exit to the part of the premises;
(b) this part of the premises should be fully separated from the live-bird part with a clear demarcation;
(c) waste and fallen stock must be held in appropriately biosecure facilities in this part of the premises with clear separation between both the live-bird part and the restricted access bio-secure barrier part; and
(d) the exterior of any vehicles (focussing on wheels and wheel arches) which enters or leaves the part must be cleansed and disinfected on both entry and exit.
(e) egg producers should ensure the packing, handling and storage of second quality eggs / farm seconds is a managed in a biosecure manner. Egg trays must be cleansed and disinfected before use and records maintained as detailed in Schedule 1 (6).
(4) The following measures apply to the restricted access (bio-secure barrier) part of the premises–
(a) access by the public should be controlled and only essential workers or contractors should enter this bio-secure barrier part; and
(b) non-essential vehicles must not enter this bio-secure barrier part.
(c) Keepers must regularly inspect the fabric and structural integrity of any building used to house poultry for holes and leaks, with particular emphasis on roofs, gutters and downpipes. Any holes and leaks must be repaired without undue delay as many recent cases of avian influenza have been linked to water ingress and flooding.
With huge costs associated with a disastrous outbreak of AI or salmonella, we take a look at what producers need to ensure they have in their insurance policies.
Edward Nottingham said there are four key areas producers should be aware of:
1. The definition of AI and salmonella – which strains are covered?
2. Trigger point – when will your policy come into effect?
3. Proximity – will being close to another outbreak affect your cover?
4. Cost caps – how much are you covered for?
You wouldn’t buy car insurance if it didn’t cover you in the event of a crash.
But concerns have been raised that free range egg producers may be wedded to avian influenza (AI) and salmonella policies that would leave them exposed in some crucial areas.
BFREPA has urged members to check the details of their policies to avoid being caught out.
Some sizeable discrepancies have been found in the small print of different insurance policies.
But the responsibility is on the egg producer to ensure the insurance they buy is fit for purpose.
How valuable an insurance policy is becomes clear when you come to claim.
Some insurers cover all variants of AI, but only when the DEFRA vet is called to test. Others do not cover for low path or certain strains.
And some salmonella policies have been found to become void if your farm is within a catchment area of an outbreak.
Edward Nottingham, agricultural director at Scrutton Bland, explained what he considers to be the most important factors producers should consider when assessing AI and salmonella insurance policies.
He said: “An outbreak of AI or salmonella can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. It’s important producers understand what they’re buying and have robust cover in place.”
Ed explains that the definition of the specific strains of either AI or salmonella the policy covers is the first place to start and that it’s important insurance covers all strains and all circumstances under your control.
“This is explicitly described in the policy notes then for simplicity often referred to as AI or salmonella throughout the rest of the document” he said.
“For salmonella, there are two particular types to be concerned about: salmonella enteritidis (SE) and salmonella typhimurium (ST). These bacteria can cause severe harm if they infect people (and usually show no signs in adult hens) but are very effectively controlled by assurance schemes such as BEIC and Laid in Britain codes, and also by DEFRA and DAERA.
“In the event of salmonella (SE or ST) being detected in a flock the eggs will immediately lose their accreditation scheme status, until such time as assurance of freedom from infection can be demonstrated. Regaining membership of your assurance scheme will be difficult and expensive.
“For AI, the key difference is between notifiable and non-notifiable strains. Insurance policies don’t always cover all eventualities of AI and it’s important producers engage with insurance bodies to satisfy themselves that they have the correct cover.”
Some insurers specifically mention HN7 and HN5 high pathogenic and low pathogenic. Others mention all high-pathogenic but only HN7 and HN5 low-pathogenic. Some insurance cover specifically mentions the strains, H1, H3, H5, H7 and H9.
If you identify a specific strain which your policy does not include, you will not be covered.
“Another important aspect is the policy trigger point. This refers to the specific point in time your insurance policy will begin to provide cover from” he added.
Ed explains that this is usually set out in your policy as ‘I will pay upon…’ and can include a host of options spanning from when AI or salmonella is first suspected, to when an order is placed upon the flock.
In an outbreak of notifiable AI, Defra will only compensate for the value of the healthy birds they destroy. There is no compensation for already dead or dying birds and you also can’t claim for any consequential losses. Compulsory secondary cleansing and disinfection (C&D) for English, Scottish and Welsh producers is also not eligible for compensation.
If your testing finds a non-notifiable strain, culling will not be ordered so government compensation won’t be forthcoming. However you can still expect mortality, reduced productivity and an unwanted product which can render that flock uneconomic. You might decide it’s better to cull early and restock - if your insurance policy doesn’t cover non-notifiable strains you will be responsible for the liability of this.
Ed says: “That’s where trigger points come in. Business interruption policies which protect you as soon as AI is first suspected offer the most robust cover against both notifiable and non-notifiable AI.
“These policies step in as soon as an incident occurs and act to match your existing business income. This means you’re protected from the off against any AI strains, and you don’t need to wait to see what you have before finding out if you’re covered - and then potentially not be,” he said.
In terms of salmonella, the trigger point could be anytime from when your swab results first suggest salmonella is present in your flock, to when the birds are slaughtered.
“If the insurance looks upon slaughter as the trigger that may be four to six weeks from the initial letter. This vital timeframe will see losses accrue rapidly as output continues and will include a bundle of costs including feed, water, labour and destruction of eggs.
“Business interruption policies which protect you as soon as salmonella SE or ST are suggested offer the most robust cover.”
“Proximity is also a key area to investigate when assessing AI and salmonella insurance policies” he said.
Some providers of salmonella insurance policies state that the cover is void if your farm is within a certain radius of an outbreak. While this may seem insignificant in the policy’s wording, what it ultimately means for a farmer is that if a neighbouring farm contracts salmonella, their own policy protecting them in the event of an outbreak is effectively voided.
Therefore it’s important to assess whether there are any clauses regarding proximity in potential agreements.
Ed explains that uptake of both AI and salmonella insurance is very market driven, and it is common to see producers only taking out insurance when the risk or awareness of the issue increases.
All insurers implement a ‘waiting period’ at the beginning of any new policy to ensure the legitimacy of claims and ensure that the policy does not compensate an existing issue.
Where a disease becomes highly prevalent, this waiting period may be extended, insurance prices may rise, or new policies could be suspended altogether. A reactive approach to attaining insurance cover can therefore place producers at greater risk, and a more sustainable and proactive approach is advocated instead.
“The level at which support is capped is the final consideration,” Ed explained.
“Full business interruption policies offer the most robust option in terms of coverage and aim to replace all lost income while covering a range of costs to help get you back to full production as soon as possible. Other insurance options are available which only cover certain aspects specifically, such as culling or clean up.”
“It is important to assess the level at which certain costs are capped. For example, a cap could be placed upon the level of income, value per bird, or secondary C&D costs an insurance policy would support.
“Secondary C&D is a real problem area. Insurance helps ease the burden but it’s equally important you check the fine print. The caps placed on these costs by some policies could be very low and offer no real benefit to the producer when clean up could run into tens of thousands of pounds.”
Ed recommends using contingency planning tools to give farmers an idea about what they can and can’t do in the event of a disease outbreak and to apply model costs to their premises.
“This is will give you an idea of how much an outbreak could cost and inform a realistic expectation of the level of insurance required. Insurance providers are able to advise in this area.”
BFREPA members have access to a free, final cleansing and disinfection contingency planning workbook and it is available at: https://www.bfrepa.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/AI-Workbook-Comp.pdf
Typical requirements for most insurers revolve around stringent biosecurity protocols and Ed explains that insurance bodies rely heavily upon audit operations to certify appropriate measures are in place. This includes restricting entry to essential personnel, recording all visits, ascertaining whether visitors have been on another poultry farm in the last 72 hours in order to mitigate the risks they pose and providing boots, protective clothing and disinfection baths for vehicles and footwear.
It is expected that such measures are already likely to be in place on most premises.
There are a number of helpful resources published on BFREPA website to help producers navigate this complex area including:
• A practical guide to salmonella infections in commercial free range laying hens
• Final cleansing and disinfection contingency planning workbook
In addition to its standard offerings, BFREPA has also partnered with Scrutton Bland to create a unique and exclusive insurance policy to counter the consequence that avian influenza and Newcastle Disease, in particular the additional costs of secondary C&D poses to members’ businesses. More information about this can be found on the BFREPA website.
Ed said: “Managing risk, finding the appropriate level of risk cover for avian flu and estimating the clean-up costs of an outbreak can be complicated. As the official insurance partner to BFREPA, Scrutton Bland has a dedicated team of agricultural specialists who are on hand to help you with all your poultry and farming insurance needs and ensure you have the right level of effective cover.”
Other insurance providers are available and BFREPA is encouraging members to begin the conversation regarding AI and salmonella insurance policies to ensure they are sufficiently covered.
An NFU Mutual spokesperson said: “We believe the most important factor for the poultry farmer is to provide choice so they can purchase the levels of cover that work for them. We have listened to the poultry farming sector and have enabled our customers to select cover options to tailor-make the right insurance for their business which they can discuss with their local NFU Mutual agent who can guide them through their options.”
Insurance policy is a complex area and there are a range of options out there from a variety of rural insurers. It may not be a topic you are particularly knowledgeable or confident about but it is vital you have the correct cover in place to properly protect yourself and your business. You can begin this process by talking to advisors or contacting insurance bodies directly.
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