Irish poultry farmers should be on the lookout for birds going off their feed, in the wake of the confirmed Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) outbreak in the North West of England, according to specialist poultry vet Margaret Hardy.

“A drop-off in egg production is another initial symptom of the disease,” she said.

“Wild birds are thought to have been the initial source of the disease with the H7 virus carried in their faeces.

“The affected farm has a mix of free range and caged birds. Initial results indicate a 25% mortality rate within the free range flock and only 5% within the caged hens.

“This backs up the belief that the disease has become established within the unit by a faecal spread route. The reality is that free range birds have direct access to their flockmates’ faeces at all times: caged birds do not.”

Hardy said that infection by the classical form of the H7 virus will not lead to physical Bird Flu symptoms.

“It has obviously mutated into a more pathogenic form, post the initial infection period. It normally takes a week to 10 days for physical symptoms to become apparent post infection.”

The Co. Tyrone-based vet confirmed that there are no direct consequences of the Bird Flu outbreak for the Irish poultry sector at the present time.

“But producers here must be extra vigilant and be on the lookout for symptoms over the coming days. This is particularly the case where caged birds are concerned. The spread of the disease can be a slower burn in such instances, as the hens do not have direct access to their flock mates’ faeces,” she said.

“Producers with any concerns should contact their local vet or the Department of Agriculture immediately.”