Poultry farmers are urged to be vigilant as outbreaks of bird flu continue to be reported in continental Europe.

It follows a briefing with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the poultry sector on the current disease situation.

So far outbreaks of avian influenza have mainly been spotted in Italy, Bulgaria and Germany.

Migration period may increase risks

The Ulster Farmer's Union (UFU's) poultry vice-chairman, Ronnie Wells, said: “We strongly recommend that all poultry keepers, including backyard keepers, review their biosecurity measures and business continuity plans now - as the risk level may well increase in the coming weeks.

"Producers should familiarise themselves with DAERA’s guidance on good biosecurity and if you have any suspicion of disease within your flock you should contact your vet or the local district veterinary officer immediately.”

In Northern Ireland, the current risk level of an incursion in wild birds and poultry remains low.

However, the level of risk is likely to increase in the coming weeks as the winter migratory period begins.

Wells advised that the "best tool" available to farmers to mitigate the risk was good biosecurity.

I would encourage producers to practise good farm hygiene and keep birds’ food and water in enclosed areas separate from wild birds wherever possible.

"Poultry keepers can also sign up to the avian influenza text alert service to receive immediate notifications of a disease outbreak.

"To subscribe they need to text BIRDS to 67300,” he said.

The service – which was launched by DAERA – will inform bird keepers of any disease outbreaks.

Poultry farmers who have already registered their flock with a valid mobile number will have automatically been subscribed to this service and should have been notified by text.

Those who did not receive a text have not been subscribed.