Brendan Coyle who says bird flu is a constant threat for poultry farmers

Like Covid for poultry

Fears expressed over bird flu following cull of 3,800 turkeys

A free-range egg producer has said farmers are living in fear of bird flu on their farms and compared the disease to Covid for poultry, writes Michael Keaveny...

Brendan Coyle, who farms free-range hens near Ballyhaise, made the comments following an outbreak of highly contagious avian influenza in a turkey flock in Clones on Sunday, November 13. It lead to the mandatory culling of 3,800 birds on the farm on Monday.

A source close to the farmer affected said that the birds were for the year-around market rather than the Christmas market and, while compensation will be paid to the value of the stock on the day, the farmer will have to keep his sheds idle for the best part of three months, potentially losing out on a further full flock cycle.

He also said that, although there were 3,800 birds affected, they were large heavy stag turkeys, weighing around 18kg each, meaning one turkey was the equivalent of six broiler hens that weigh around 2.5kg.

“We’d be hugely nervous of getting it (bird flu),” said Brendan who has huge sympathy for the Monaghan farmer affected.

“It would be a life-changing scenario if any farmer was to be depopulated. They’d face future financial implications and it would add extra stress and burden to everything that’s going on. We’ve already had a very hard year with rising costs.”

Brendan likened the outbreak of bird flu on a farm to Coronavirus in humans.

“It’s like Covid,” he said. “That’s why these houses are so susceptible to these commercial flocks because they are very densely populated. If it gets in, then it spreads a lot quicker because there’s a bigger population of bird in a smaller area.

“It’s the same with Covid, when it got into a house, it went around everybody and, once it gets in, it’s very hard to escape it.

“Birds in commercial flocks are the same, if any of them get it then unfortunately they have to be culled. It’s been a tough year all around with the cost of feed and energy rising prices.”

Poultry farmers have been subject to a mandatory housing order since November 7. This requires flock keepers to confine all poultry in a secure building, to which wild birds do not have access. However, Brendan says that poultry farmers have already been maintaining strict biosecurity measures for years.

“I don’t have anybody into the hen house, just myself. I might get family members to help collect the eggs and help me on the weekends but nobody gets into the hen house only me.

“We don’t let people in willy-nilly around. We’re not a pet farm. We don’t let people in because we know what can happen - there’s just too big a risk. You may not be carrying bird flu, but you could bring in another infection like a gut infection that could impact egg production or weight gain.”

He continued: “I have a shower before I go into the hens, change my clothes going in and out of every house I go into. You might say it’s over the top, but it’s necessary.”

Brendan also said that despite fears of the bird flu spreading to other birds, it poses no threat to human health. He said: “Once poultry is cooked properly, whether it’s turkey, chicken, eggs or anything else it’s very safe to eat. There should be no issue with supply the supply of turkey for Christmas Day”.

The Department of Agriculture has implemented a protection zone of at least a 3km radius from the infected holding and a surveillance zone of at least 10km radius. The department said it would conduct a census of all holdings within these zones and licensing procedures will be put in place to control movements of live poultry, other captive birds, hatching and table eggs, used litter, manure and slurry from poultry holdings.

Minister Heather Humphreys offered her support to the farmer involved.

“It’s always concerning and your heart goes out to the farmer involved. I understand they were ready for market. I spoke to Minister for Agriculture and all the supports are in place, they will get all the help that the Department give.

She added that bird flu comes every year. Farmers keep very high standards, but it’s something that just gets in, it’s no reflection on the farmers, it’s just the nature of the disease.”

The HSE also warned people not to touch sick or dead wild birds and report any sightings of sick or dead wild birds to the regional veterinary office or contact the Department of Agriculture at 01-4928026.