Navigating Avian Flu Outbreaks: What Happens If I must Cull My Flock?

For smallholder poultry farmers in South Africa, the spectre of avian flu outbreaks can be particularly daunting. Unlike larger commercial operations, small-scale farmers often lack extensive resources and infrastructure. In addition, our farmers are often in relatively remote areas. When confronted with such a crisis, it’s essential to have a well-thought-out plan using the basics of Farm Business Management tools and knowledge from the Poultry Production course.

In this article, we discussed identifying avian flu and deep cleaning your chicken coops. Now, let’s guide you on managing the culling should it come to that.

Understanding avian flu

Avian flu, scientifically known as avian influenza, is a highly contagious viral disease primarily affecting birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys. It spreads swiftly within flocks and can inflict severe damage on poultry populations. In South Africa, where smallholder poultry farming plays a vital role in feeding and employing local communities, avian flu outbreaks can spell disaster, threatening livelihoods and food security.

Key steps in managing an avian flu outbreak

Early detection and isolation

  • Vigilance is your best ally. Regularly monitor your flock for any signs of illness, such as sudden deaths, irregular breathing, or a drop in egg production.
  • Plan ahead and identify a place to isolate the chickens should you need to.
  • Swiftly isolate any birds showing symptoms to prevent the virus from infecting healthy individuals.
  • Deep clean and continually disinfect all hard surfaces.
  • Use foot baths and hand washing, and limit the number of people accessing the chicken houses.
  • Consider the whole farm’s health, especially if you have layers, broilers, turkeys, ducks, etc., on the same farm. Use the principles of Farm Business Management to minimise risk.

Consult authorities

  • If you suspect an infection on your farm, move quickly and definitively.
  • Contact your vet or farmer support officer at support@buhle.org.za or the SA Poultry Association for assistance.

Culling: A difficult but necessary step

Culling is a heart-wrenching responsibility for any poultry farmer. It involves the humane destruction of infected birds and birds at risk.

To perform culling effectively, you may need assistance from a veterinarian or experienced personnel, especially if this is your first time. We understand this is a difficult choice, but preventing infection from spreading within your farm and community is necessary.

  • Choose appropriate culling methods and ensure it’s carried out swiftly and compassionately.
  • Avoid leaving culled birds exposed to the environment; dispose of them as soon as the culling is completed.
  • Keep meticulous records of the number of birds culled and their proper disposal to comply with regulations.

Disposal of culled chickens

  • Burial is the simplest form of correctly disposing of the culled chickens.
  • Put on your PPE (mask, overall, gloves, etc.) for yourself and those assisting you.
  • Dig a hole deep enough to prevent dogs and scavengers from reaching the carcasses. The hole should be at least one meter deep.
  • Place the culled chickens in the hole and cover them with lime or quicklime to ensure they decompose fast; this will also reduce the smell.
  • Cover the carcasses with soil and compact them well to deter dogs and scavengers.
  • Clean and disinfect every hard surface and all equipment that came into contact with the infected chickens.
  • Dispose of masks and gloves immediately after. If you used an overall, ensure it is washed and hung in the sun.

Biosecurity measures

  • Your farm’s biosecurity is your first line of defense. The entire farm depends on your knowledge of sound farm business management principles to ensure its continued safety. Strengthen biosecurity to prevent the introduction and spread of the virus.
  • Implement rigorous hygiene protocols, including regular equipment, vehicles, and footwear disinfection.
  • Minimise the movement of people and vehicles onto your farm and establish footbaths at entry points.

Farm Business Management: Navigating Financial Losses

While dealing with an outbreak, it’s crucial to maintain a clear understanding of your farm’s financial status.

  • Assess the economic impact of culling and the loss of production.
  • Inform your regular customers of the planned disruption to their supply.
  • Give it 21 days after cleaning and before restocking the chickens.
  • Be prepared to adjust your business plan as needed to accommodate the financial setback, including seeking financial assistance or grants available for affected smallholder farmers.
  • Culling your chickens does not make you a bad farmer. Give yourself time to grieve your loss and put all safety measures in place in preparation for the next production cycle.

Enrol at Buhle Farmers’ Academy today

Managing the avian flu outbreak is a multifaceted challenge for South African smallholder poultry farmers. It demands basic poultry production knowledge, farm business management skills, and unwavering dedication.

Visit our website today for more information, including how to enrol.

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