Farmer Tom Pate, 43, who keeps 600 turkeys said it was a very nervous time for the industry in the lead up to Christmas. Bird keepers across the UK have been told to implement strict biosecurity measures in a bid to stop the virus spreading.
Tom, the owner of South Powrie farm near Dundee, has been selling his free-range turkeys to customers for Christmas for 11 years. But he has been forced to bring the birds indoors in a desperate bid to protect them from the disease – and warned an outbreak would wipe out his entire flock.
‘Undoubtedly there will be a shortage of birds for Christmas’
Tom said there would undoubtably be a shortage of birds this Christmas and is hopeful his security measures will prevent him having to disappoint loyal customers.
Dad-of-three Tom said: “I think undoubtedly there will be a shortage of birds for Christmas. Bird flu usually comes over in the autumn and only last over the winter months - but this outbreak started last year and it hasn’t gone away.
“It’s a very bad situation and we are losing the battle with it. It’s an explosive disease and the risks are very great. It comes over in the wild bird population and all it takes is for one infected bird dropping to land in the wrong place and that would be it for my entire flock.
“There will be shortages this Christmas, but I think the shortage will become a long-term problem. We have 600 turkeys which we sell direct to local customers.
He continued: “We have been selling them for 11 years and built up a loyal customer base and we are desperate not to let them down. We are doing everything we can to protect the birds and prevent bird flu so we are still able to sell the turkeys for Christmas.
“We have taken the decision to bring all our birds inside because the risks are just too great. It’s not what we want to do but it’s the right decision for the bird’s welfare.
“If the farm was to gets infected it could kill the whole flock or they would have to be culled so there is a huge pressure to contain the disease.”
Nearly 200 bird flu cases recorded in last 12 months
Since October 2021, 190 cases have been confirmed in the UK with more than 30 of these confirmed since the beginning of this month.
An Avian Influenza Protection Zone is now in place and farmers must comply with strict biosecurity rules.
Tom added: “There are a lot of nervous people just now, especially people who have commercial flocks. This is the worst outbreak we have ever seen.”
Can human’s catch bird flu?
NHS website says: “Bird flu, or avian flu, is an infectious type of influenza that spreads among birds. In rare cases, it can affect humans.”
There are lots of different strains of bird flu virus. Most of them don’t infect humans. But there are 4 strains that have caused concern in recent years:
- H5N1 (since 1997)
- H7N9 (since 2013)
- H5N6 (since 2014)
- H5N8 (since 2016)
Although H5N1, H7N9 and H5N6 don’t infect people easily and aren’t usually spread from human to human, several people have been infected around the world, leading to a number of deaths.
In February 2021 H5N8 was found to have infected a small number of people for the first time, in Russia.