Compulsory poultry housing order in the North set to be lifted

The compulsory poultry housing order currently in place in Northern Ireland is set to be lifted this month, Chief Veterinary Officer, Robert Huey, confirmed.

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) for all poultry and captive birds will remain in force in the North until the end of April, he said.

The current AIPZ remains in place until 11.59pm on March 16. The requirements of the zone will be amended after that point, meaning that keepers will have the option of letting their birds outside.

Keepers who choose to let their birds outside will be required to put in place additional biosecurity measures to minimise the risk of infection from wild birds.

These measures in the new zone are set to apply across all of Northern Ireland and are based on sound expert and industry advice, Huey said.

The risk of infection from wild birds is unlikely to decrease in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks, particularly as H5N8 has been confirmed in wild birds here.

“The current housing requirement, which is due to end on March 16, has allowed keepers time to introduce stricter biosecurity measures.

“Therefore it is our intention to lift the mandatory requirement to house after this date, subject to keepers maintaining the highest possible levels of biosecurity,” he said.

However, removing the requirement to house birds did not mean that poultry keepers should stop being vigilant, Huey said.

Additional biosecurity requirements will include:
  • Ensuring that birds’ feed and water cannot be accessed by wild birds.
  • Avoiding transfer of contamination between premises by cleansing and disinfecting equipment, vehicles and footwear.
  • Separating domestic waterfowl (ducks and geese) from other domestic species.
  • Reducing the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry or captive birds are kept.

While the aim is to allow keepers to let their birds out, subject to their own assessment of the risks of doing so, this will depend on any change to the current disease situation, Huey added.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) will continue to provide updates over the next few weeks, he said.

Meanwhile, there continues to be a ban on gatherings of some species of birds at livestock fairs, auctions, shows or other events.

‘Extension of Prevention Zone is a welcome development’

The decision by the department to extend the AIPZ is a welcome development, according to the Ulster Farmers’ Union Poultry Chairman, Tom Forgrave.

Given the serious risk posed by avian flu to the poultry industry, the union fully supports DAERA’s decision to continue with the prevention zone until the end of April.

“The priority for bird keepers will be the safety of their flock, and they will continue to act responsibly in order to protect their birds.

“I would encourage producers to think carefully about the amended prevention zone restrictions and weigh up the possible risks of allowing birds outside even with additional biosecurity measures,” he said.

But this further extension does have implications for members with free-range enterprises, according to the UFU.

The UFU believes that the introduction of a temporary labelling system of ‘free range’ eggs needs to be introduced to inform consumers that the eggs were laid by hens temporarily housed in barns for their own welfare.