A second flock of birds at a poultry unit in NI is to be culled tomorrow (Friday) due to a suspected outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N8 subtype of Avian Influenza (bird flu), DAERA chief vet Robert Huey has said.

Briefing MLAs on the Stormont Agriculture committee today, Huey outlined the chronology of events at the first outbreak on a farm near Clough in Co Antrim. The Department was alerted to the issue on New Year’s Eve, and with the highly pathogenic strain suspected, took the decision to proceed with a cull of around 30,000 pullets.

But since then, the Department established that this flock was associated with a second unit, owned by the same farm family. As a result, around 80,000 birds have now been culled across the business.

On Wednesday, the Department got results back from the National Reference Laboratory, confirming that the outbreak involves the highly pathogenic H5N8 subtype. It is the first time a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu has been found in a poultry flock in NI.

Second outbreak

The second outbreak is on a layer unit outside Lisburn, and is also thought to be highly pathogenic Avian Influenza. Around 31,000 birds are to be culled before the end of this week.

A 3km protection zone and 10km surveillance zone are in place around both outbreaks, meaning that poultry, eggs or poultry litter can generally only move under licence issued by a DAERA veterinary inspector.

Poultry keepers who have birds culled under the direction of the Department are compensated at market value. DAERA also covers the cost of culling and disposal. However, there is no compensation for lost income, and there is a significant period of cleaning and disinfection before houses can be re-populated, Huey acknowledged.

He urged all poultry keepers to look again at their biosecurity, and challenged poultry companies to also play their part. “I need them to check and make sure that what they think is happening on farms, is actually happening,” said Huey.

“This is a very serious epizootic disease and a very major issue for the NI poultry industry. We all have to do our bit to get on top of this,” he told MLAs.

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