The Irish poultry sector’s counteraction to the threat of avian influenza (bird flu) was a definite success, according to Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) National Poultry Chairman Nigel Renaghan.

Renaghan stated that the industry’s response to the threat was proactive rather than reactive, and secured Ireland’s health status internationally. This was of great importance, and cooperation was key.

Ireland was the only country in Europe to have bird flu in wild birds but never in commercial or backyard flocks.

To deal with the threat of bird flu, the Department of Agriculture imposed a compulsory requirement of housing or confining poultry on December 23, 2016. This requirement stayed in place until April 25, 2017.

Also Read: Compulsory housing requirement for poultry lifted

In economic terms, there were no losses as a result of the precautions, Renaghan said. “As well as being in a shed, birds had access to a veranda – an area covered with sand – for birds to scratch at and so on,” he added.

There are a lot of eggs exported abroad, to places such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Because we maintained our health status, this has not been affected.

According to Renaghan, everyone in the sector is happy with how the issue was dealt with, regarding incomes, health status and other areas. “Everyone is happy that we’ve done everything we could to prevent the threat.”

The only reservation that Renaghan had with the topic was the issue of unregistered backyard flocks. He said: “There are a number of backyard flocks that aren’t registered with the Department of Agriculture. Too many people are giving away or selling birds who aren’t registered at all.”

This, he said, was an issue that would have to be clamped down on and dealt with soon. Renaghan noted that all of the affected flocks in the UK in recent times were backyard flocks and that this is an important concern.

Renaghan issued a reminder to flock owners that anyone with backyard flocks should never feed their birds outside. This would risk contamination or crossover, should wild birds share the same feed or water with domestic flocks.

Opportunities in poultry

Renaghan highlighted the promising opportunities that are available for farmers in the poultry sector. The sector is expected to double in size over the next 10 years, with opportunities available in free-range, organic and duck production for newcomers.

In particular, Renaghan emphasised the potential for free-range egg production. He said: “There’s an idea that this is a regionalised sector, with production staying in the usual counties – but the reality is that farmers in any part of the country can avail of great opportunities in free-range eggs.”