Technical Corner

Latest insights and information from our Technical Director

By Nigel Strain

I’m sure we are all sick of hearing about viruses over the last year or two (no pun intended!), but Avian Influenza is a major challenge for our customers and a real threat to our industry. In the notsodistant past AI would be a threat for one in three or four winters, but last few years the virus has gained strength, spreading further and hanging around much longer. Last year the poultry industry was hit hard by ‘bird flu’ which arrived early and kept going well into Spring. Unfortunately, this season’s AI has arrived on our shores even earlier than last year and has spread across Europe and Great Britain very quickly. There has already been twice as many outbreaks detected in wild bird across Europe in 2021 than there was in 2020, and new cases are being reported almost daily now. 

“Chicken farmers are facing a perfect storm – high feed costs, increasing energy costs as well as the threat of AI.”

AI is a viral infection that is spread among birds. Fortunately, it very rarely affects humans and there have been no cases of humans affected here in the UK. What is particularly worrying this year is that so far the large majority of cases have been identified as the more serious Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 strain. This does not mean that the virus is more infectious and does not increase the risk to humans, but being highly pathogenic rather than low pathogenic does mean that it has much greater potential to kill chickens. Focusing on the UK, HPAI H5N1 cases have been confirmed in many counties including Angus, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Wrexham, Cheshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and Essex. These cases were identified in wild birds, captive birds and non-commercial flocks mainly, but also in some commercial flocks.  

There’s never been a more important time to support and empathise with our customers. Chicken farmers are facing a perfect storm – high feed costs, increasing energy costs as well as the threat of AI. It’s not going to be an easy winter!