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The BBC's Start Page for Avian Flu

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bird Life International
Working together for birds and people

As much as we want to turn a blind eye to it and as much as we'd like to think 'it's not going to come here'; I regret to say we have to accept the strong possibilities.

There is much said about farmed chickens and we know that flocks of over 50 have to be registered, but at the moment there is hardly anything said about back garden chicken keepers and what they have to do in cvase of emergancy.

A Government spokesman was asked on TV the other day "How many chickens are there in back gardens in this country ?". He replied "I don't know" - and to be fair on the chap, I can't see how he would.

So, here's my two pennies worth

There's nothing more the media like to break up the stories of war, celebrety scandal etc., than a good old "We're all going to die" story and Bird Flu has that ring about it to give Journalists a field day of destructive stories.

First we have to look at a two facts:
1. Chickens don't spread bird flu; They can catch bird blu, but from wild birds or integrated birds with the disease.
2. Humans can catch bird flu from any bird, not just chickens. The virus is transported by the faeces from whatever bird.

Therefore, for us to catch the disease, we have to be in direct contact with infected birds. This could be by treading on excretement from pigeons on Trafalgar Square, then touching the shoe when we change etc.
Sure, a poultry keeper is more prone to catch the illness, but only if his birds have it.

What we can do as responsible people
DEFRA have already suggested that all chicken / poultry keepers feed their birds under cover. This is simply to stop wild birds joining in at feeding time and leaving droppings in the feeding tray. See my photos.
This to me seems quite a sensible move as not only does it make sense, but it makes the owner feel a bit more resposible about the whole thing.
There's a chance this may end up with us having to cover them altogether. For some it may be quite an easy task, for others, difficult.

Should this happen, chicken arcs and small enclosures can be quite easily 'roofed' with wood, tarpaulin or whatever. For those with more chickens and in a larger pen, this will obviously mean either they have to be squashed into an area you can afford to cover, or searching for materials to build something big enough for your requirements. Either way, the small flock chicken keeper has a better handle on the situation.

What is a shame - and I feel this is a major issue is the 'nosey interferer' type. The neighbour who's read the scare mongering and think that you've only got to look at a chicken to die within 48 hours.

One large sheet of waterproofed
plywood would cheaply roof this

In my case for instance, last year I let my chickens roam free in January / February. It was a good time for them to do a bit of weeding for me ! This year, because my property is on a public footpath, I'm keeping them in the Pen solely for the reason that they wander up and down the lane. Some smart Alec is going to see this and before you know it, you'll have Vetinary Inspectors with masks on followed by 16 TV Satellite dishes on your doorstep. I see it...'Chicken walks accross Lane - Avian Flu Alert' - ridiculous, but !
The fact is that the walker has more of a chance of getting infected walking on the field below us where the swans and geese hang about !

For this reason, should you be about to get chickens for the garden, I'd just tell your neighbours first.

Everyone seems convinced they are going to be the first to catch it in the country.

Cleanliness is something I'm sure we are good on anyway. Whenever I clean out the chicken shed, I have the bath filled, I get out of my clothing on the back door step and jump straight in.
But if you should feel more precaution is necessasry, you can always purchase some face masks and keep a bowl of disinfected water by the shed to step in and out of whenever you're up there. I think this will probably be the next DEFRA move.

Geography and migration patterns show we are a country of a lesser risk to Avian Flu than those in Central Europe (see map). But I guess there is a chance of a rogue bird getting through, or of course it can come in by illegal importation.

Hopefully all this will come to nothing for us back garden chicken keepers, but there's no harm in showing those around us that we aren't, like some, saying it's all a load of Government hype and laugh it off. If we are laughing it off, that will be seen as irresponsibility.

In a while this will have all blown over and some other life threatening virus will come to light and the media bandwagon can get on their horses and race to it.

In the meantime - don't blame the chicken, blame man for interfering too much with nature and tighten up education to those who need it.