April 2019 Newsletter

This month’s newsletter has details about the opening of our new practice in Shrewsbury, and our award winning vet of the month Helena Brewer, who recently won the prestigious Cliff Stewart prize for the best poultry practitioner paper. You may also be interested to read about our flat fee health plans visits and a free water test at the lab!

You’ll also find details about changes to Salmonella testing, our broiler passport accredited online course and a Brexit update.

Click here to read more

February Newsletter

This months newsletter has details about ‘Farming Connect- Wales’, feather pecking, use of B-Act Probiotic for prevention of leg problem in broiler farms, Lion Passport online training courses, free range producers discussion groups and the use of diatomaceous earth products in Lion Code farms.

Also find out more about our vet of the month Catarina Guerreiro.

Click here to read the full newsletter

Game Bird Veterinary Roadshow 2019

We welcome you to join PHS for a review of the 2018 season. We will be discussing how to reduce veterinary costs and look at new opportunities and ways to prepare for the 2019 season.

A light supper will be provided. Please call 0115 951 6551 or email sutbon@poultryhealthservices.com to book your place.

To find out more about these FREE to attend events click here

January Newsletter

We are now a team of 16 Poultry Vets and 2 Poultry Veterinary Consultants covering the whole of the UK 24/7, 365 days a year. This ensures that you have a local poultry vet available when needed and also sees that costs are kept to a minimum as the vets don’t have to travel long distances. We also offer “fixed fees” packages to include all your routine testing, vaccines and veterinary health programmes so that you can budget through the year and enjoy fixed prices for 12 months. We do not charge extra for Out of Hours and week end emergency work, where we need to go to farms or perform post-mortems or lab tests.

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Christmas Opening Hours and Delivery Dates

The offices will be open normal hours except the 25th and 26th December and 1st January, when the offices will be closed. As always there will be a duty poultry vet available and they will be contactable on your local branch number.

Salmonella sampling over the New Year holiday
Royal Mail will not deliver samples to our Edinburgh lab on Wednesday 2nd January 2019 (a public holiday in Scotland).  The last delivery in 2018 will be on Monday 31st December and the first delivery in 2019 will be on Thursday 3rd January.

Plan your sampling and posting dates to ensure your samples can be delivered within the 4 day testing limit. If you think this will not be possible, please contact us in advance so we can arrange a courier service.

Vaccine Orders during Christmas
Please ensure that any vaccine orders required during the festive period are placed by Wednesday 12th December. This ensures guaranteed delivery before the festive period.

TNT Christmas & New Year Delivery Schedule

Collection on Friday 21st December for delivery by Monday 24th December.

Collection on Monday 24th December for delivery by Friday 28th December.

Collection on Thursday 27th December for delivery by Friday 28th December.

Collection on Friday 28th December for delivery by Monday 31st December.

Collection on Monday 31st December for delivery by Thursday 3rd January.

Collection on Wednesday 2nd January for delivery by Thursday 3rd January.


DEFRA Avian Flu Update

Poultry farmers and pet bird keepers urged to prepare for winter Avian Flu threat

The Chief Veterinary Officers across the UK are encouraging all poultry keepers to take action now to reduce the risk of disease over the winter.

Since June 2017, there have been no detections of avian influenza in poultry or kept birds in the UK and the UK has retained its OIE country freedom status since September 2017.

There are some simple measures that all bird keepers, whether they are running a large commercial farm, keeping a few birds in their back garden or rearing game birds, should take to protect their animals against the threat of avian influenza in the coming winter months. These include:

• Keep the area where birds live clean and tidy, control rats and mice and regularly disinfect any hard surfaces. Clean footwear before and after visits.
• Place birds’ feed and water in fully enclosed areas that are protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly.
• Put fencing around outdoor areas where birds are allowed and limit their access to ponds or areas visited by wild waterfowl.
• Where possible, avoid keeping ducks and geese with other poultry species
• For poultry keepers in England, Wales and Scotland, sign up to a free APHA service to receive text or email alerts to any outbreaks of bird flu in the UK. In Northern Ireland, all bird keepers are encouraged to subscribe to a free text alert service by simply texting ‘BIRDS’ to 67300.

These measures are particularly important if you are in or close to one of the GB Higher Risk Areas. You can check whether or not you are in a Higher Risk Area by using our interactive maps.

A joint statement by all four of the Chief Veterinary Officers in the UK today said:

“Avian flu continues to circulate in many parts of the world and with the colder months soon upon us the risk of disease from migrating birds is increasing. It is critical that all keepers of poultry, including game birds and pet birds, act now to reduce the risk of transmission of avian flu to their flocks.
“Good biosecurity should be maintained at all times, including regularly cleaning and disinfecting the area where you keep birds and separating them from wild birds wherever possible.

“Keepers should also ensure they register on the Great Britain Poultry Register and we are pleased that new forms are now in place to simplify this process. Keepers in Northern Ireland must register their birds on the DAERA Bird Register. This can now be completed and submitted on-line”

All bird keepers across Great Britain should also register their birds on the Great Britain Poultry Register (GBPR). If you have 50 or more birds, this is a legal requirement, although keepers with fewer than 50 birds are also strongly encouraged to register. New simplified and user-friendly forms will speed up the process this year.

In Northern Ireland it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers to register every bird on the DAERA Bird Register, other than pet birds kept in the owner’s home.

Registering your birds means the government can contact you in the case of an outbreak and provide information on the steps to take to limit the chances of your birds getting the disease.

Last winter, the H5N6 HPAI strain of bird flu was only detected in wild birds and there were no outbreaks in domestic birds, either in commercial or small holdings. Although there have been no findings in the UK since June 2018 the virus is still circulating in wild birds in North Europe (including Denmark and Germany) and has caused outbreaks in poultry. In addition, the H5N8 HPAI virus continues to circulate in Eastern Europe, highlighting the need to stay vigilant.

The Government continues to monitor for incursions of avian flu and is working with the poultry and game bird industries; hen rehoming and pure and traditional poultry breeds stakeholders to help prevent incursions.

Bird flu is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect any type of bird flu you must report it immediately in:
England by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301,
Wales, contact 0300 303 8268.
Scotland by contacting your local Field Services Office
Northern Ireland by calling on the DAERA Helpline 0300 2007840
Failure to do so is an offence.

If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77) or in Northern Ireland, on the DAERA Helpline 0300 2007840.

PROHEALTH – Sustainable pig & poultry production

PROHEALTH aims at improving competitiveness and sustainability of modern pig and poultry farming in Europe.

Production diseases compromise health and welfare of pigs and poultry, generating inefficiencies which reduce profitability and product quality, and increase environmental footprint and antibiotic use.

The PROHEALTH project will develop an understanding of the multi-factorial dimension of animal pathologies linked to the intensification of production and use this to develop, evaluate and disseminate effective control strategies to reduce impact.

PHS have been a part of this EU funded product which is culminating in the PROHEALTH Industry Workshops and Scientific Symposium, taking place in Ghent, Belgium on 27th & 28th November.

Sarah Perez will be speaking at the symposium on the development of new biosecurity protocols in poultry farms.

To view the full programme click here

To find out more about the project, click here

Salmonella sampling over the New Year holidays

All Salmonella testing is now carried out at the Edinburgh lab.

We wanted to make all our clients aware that that Tuesday, 2 January 2019 is a public holiday in Scotland.  Whilst the lab will be processing samples, Royal Mail does not deliver north of the border on that day.

The last delivery to the lab in 2018 will be on Monday, 31 December and the first delivery in 2019 will be on Thursday, 3 January.  You will need to take this into account when planning sampling and sending.

If this makes time-frames tight/difficult, we can help arrange a courier to ensure delivery within time if you call our Sheriff Hutton practice on 0134 782 0366.  For your information, testing must start within 4 days of sampling to be valid for compliance, so it is essential to bear this public holiday in mind.

Environmental Enrichment Overview

After years as a poultry practitioner, I have witnessed a gradual shift in the way intensive farming is understood. Concepts like welfare, biosecurity and environmental enrichment have moved from the scientific papers, to the day-to-day routine on every farm.

Some of these changes have been driven by consumer demand, by farm assurance scheme requirements and by legislation. However, some change has come from farmers own motivation and increased awareness.

I would like to think that we are on a journey away from the “desensitized” animal production system and leading to a place where improving the quality of life for stock in a meaningful way is as important as our attempts to improve performance.

To achieve this, we need to implement the welfare ideal portrayed by the concept of the Five Freedoms at a deeper level:


We can see how all of them interlink to each other in a basal way and the aim of this exercise is not prioritizing one over the others in any way. However, for the scope of this article, we are going to focus on what “Freedom to express normal behaviour” entails and how it relates to the idea of “enrichment” in a general way. This is potentially the more abstract and complex freedom on its contents but essential in the thought process of realizing how important the bird’s “perception” of its quality of life is and how this is linked to its ability to fulfil normal behaviour.

In successive articles, we will explain how the different species of production animals can benefit from it in their daily lives.

In part, this concept lends itself to assessment of the environment, and what is present within it, to allow the birds to express a range of positive behaviours. Where behaviours or opportunities might be seen as lacking, the environment may need to be “enriched”, to allow a greater behavioural repertoire, consistent with a better quality of life (and a move towards a “Good Life”).

Our starting point is always going to be the same for each one of them: understanding poultry species at their most basic level.

We might have domesticated, selected and bred a bird through the years to produce an individual that can cope with life in captivity, tolerate humans and is full of genetic capabilities that we are exploring for production benefits. However, we cannot move away from the reality that we are working with an animal with a brain motivated to follow a complex “hard-wired” pattern of behaviours expressed through a daily routine.

For example, by observing a jungle fowl (our chicken predecessor) in the wild over 24 hours, we will see the bird expressing certain behaviours and getting involved a series of activities. A domestic hen returned to “feral” conditions will display the majority of these behaviours too!

This reinforces the fact that there are behaviours that are “hardwired”; not taught or learned. Research has found that hens are highly motivated to perform certain activities to the extent of them being regarded as welfare needs. This means that depriving birds from the opportunity to perform these behaviours may have marked welfare consequences, such as frustration and abnormal behaviour patterns.

The way to organize and describe this group of expected behavioural traits in any given species is called an Ethogram. If we collate all that data into a pie chart it might resemble something like this:

Each slice of the pie represents the proportion of time an animal spends performing each behaviour. The bigger the slice, the more time a bird spends performing that activity and the more important that activity may be regarded to be.

How might the Ethogram relate to environmental enrichment?

If we critically compare the wild and farm environments we can see that farmed birds are certainly provided with food (which is nutritionally balanced but perhaps lacking in variety), water and shelter but, more often than not, they live in a relatively confined space with a large group of other similarly sexed or aged birds

Owing to group size, the opportunity for socially interacting socially in a constructive manner is probably reduced and their ability to establish a suitable hierarchy is definitely more challenging.

Suddenly, with all this information in our hands, some of the differences between the time “budgets” of wild and farmed animals become apparent.  Our birds have fulfilled their basic needs in a fraction of the time and may occupy the “spare” time with whatever resources are at their disposal. This might include the appearance of undesirable/abnormal behaviours that not only have an economic impact for the owner but a component of frustration for the bird that we should be able to address.

To help us understand the areas where management techniques can have an impact on the animal wellbeing, Bloom-Smith et al (1991) provided a categorization of the different enrichment types:

–              Social Enrichment: Such as frequent walks and human interaction (remembering birds will equally appreciate solitude when performing some activities such as laying)

–              Occupational enrichment: Such as adding ramps, bales, balls, hanging objects

–              Physical Enrichment: Such as changing the layout within the house

–              Sensory Enrichment: Such as music, smells, different bedding

–              Nutritional Enrichment: Such as alfalfa, oyster shell, meal worms

Nowadays, the construction of modern poultry houses encompasses not only the physical welfare needs of our birds but also provides some of the necessary enrichment to fulfil their “other” emotional/mental needs (i.e. complexity of a multi-tier frame in layer production, perching in broiler houses, pecking objects in turkey houses… etc). Additional enrichment methods will have a cost, and it is possible that some of our efforts to mimic the wild bird’s ethogram will have unanticipated negative effects (e.g. Dawn-dusk dimming may lead to smothers; feeding on the floor to encourage foraging may promote disease and/or unevenness).

However, given the persistent presence of undesirable behaviours among farmed animals, there is an intuitive consensus that perhaps more needs to be done.

We are gradually learning where it is worth putting our effort, time and resources to synchronize our productivity needs to their specific physiological and behavioural needs even more for maximum performance.

Outwardly, occupational enrichment appears easy and appealing.  Most people can relate to the enriching and pleasurable effects of “toys” from childhood but, it is important to bear in mind that this is not a simple exercise of adding up “furniture”.

The widespread usage of random objects in the house (such as CD’s or balls) as a pecking distraction adds up a risk of fear reaction to the novel object too. 

Just remember we are dealing with a prey species. Fear in nature will be linked to avoidance and ultimately to survival, but in farmed animals is linked to stress and this, ultimately, to imbalance, disease and poor performance.

It is possible for us to teach birds coping strategies though, by using targeted enrichment efforts early in life. This means involving all the stages of production when the model includes more than one; rearing-laying or brooding- grow out.

Birds will benefit from early socialization and exposure to novel stimuli. This will help them become more tolerant to changes in their environment later in life and the fear responses will be reduced.

Simplistically, utilisation of this kind of enrichment needs to be assessed as there is an element of futility if we fail to see what the animal requires.

If interacting with the “toy” is not rewarding or suitably constructed and does not obviously have a parallel in the ethogram, the birds often rapidly lose interest in the object.  At such a point, it is no longer enriching but is merely occupying space and should be removed or replaced.

Other common efforts seen include the social enrichment where free range birds are mixed in some areas with other species. Whilst it poses a risk of disease, it is worth mentioning however, that some producers have used other species – such as Alpacas – to improve ranging behaviour in hens.  This may be by reducing fear reaction in birds to the risk of predators. Owing to the large size of this Alpacas, foxes for example do not venture in the range.

There are also opportunities for sensory/nutritional enrichment, but this can be a slow process of trial and error to find what works for each species. Further progress may well require collaborative efforts between industry, academia and appropriately motivated investors to help drive the research and provide the evidence for different types of enrichment in a commercial setting.

We could even go further by saying that sometimes adding something new is not necessary, but reassessing what it is already in the house and optimizing its use could equally be successful in accommodating the birds’ requirement for a specific need (such as more appealing substrate within the nest boxes, different lighting, different means of administration for grit or oyster shell, different material for perches, etc)

It might be my point of view, but I think that there is a tangible positive impact from working with the bird and adopting a holistic approach into its well-being.

There could be a long debate into how much of what we do on farms is really perceived by the bird and what “happy” means to a bird; however, what cannot be disputed is that animals are sentient beings and that, the quicker we learn about enrichment and bird behaviour, the quicker other concepts as sustainability, efficiency and profitability will join the equation.

Carol Lopez DVM MRCVS – Poultry Health Services Sutton Bonington