The farmer is seeking a housing order from the Welsh Government

Capestone Organic Poultry Ltd lost 130,000 chickens to bird flu outbreak in September

The Welsh Government lacks “understanding and awareness” of bird flu, a major poultry business has said.

This September, 130,000 organic chickens were killed, following a “very small outbreak” of bird flu in one of their sheds.

The Welsh Government said the situation was “under daily review”.

The chief executive of Capestone Organic Poultry, near Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, is calling for a mandatory housing order.

This measure – currently in place in England – legally requires all bird owners to keep their animals indoors and follow strict measures to protect their flocks from the disease.

Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease that affects the respiratory, digestive or nervous systems of many species of birds.

Some strains can spread easily and quickly between birds and have a high mortality rate.

On Tuesday, Minister for Rural Affairs Leslie Griffiths issued a statement on the severity and spread of bird flu in Wales, stressing that it was “under daily review”.

He also confirmed that he still stands by the decision taken by the Chief Veterinarian for Wales to declare an All-Wales Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) on 17 October 2022.

AIPZ requires all bird keepers to observe certain biosecurity measures.

Biosecurity measures in a poultry farm

Strict biosecurity measures are in place to prevent the spread of the disease.

In a statement to the Senedd on Tuesday, he said: “In the last 12 months, we have seen the most serious outbreak of bird flu in Wales and across Great Britain.

“This was the largest outbreak of an exotic disease that can be reported in animals since the devastating outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001.”

Ms Griffiths said the Welsh Government was taking a “science-led approach”, rather than following the UK Government in England, which on Monday, November 7 brought compulsory bird housing into force.

“Thankfully, in Wales, we have not seen anything like the number of cases in England that would be required to justify any such stay-at-home order,” he said.

“Furthermore, the scientific advice from my interim chief vet is that, for Wales, our AIPZ biosecurity requirements are currently appropriate and sufficient to contain the threat.”

In total, Wales has recorded 10 contaminated premises since October 2021. There were none from February to September 2022.

Three infected premises have been confirmed in Wales since early October 2022

The most recent confirmed case was at a facility near Buckley, Flintshire, on Monday 7 November.

“Critical Hour”

Having experienced first-hand the impact of bird flu on his business, Capestone chief executive Rob Cumine said he believed the Welsh Government needed to seriously review the way it manages the disease.

“We’re at a pretty critical time in terms of disease control and housing orders are very effective, both in domestic poultry and wild birds,” he said.

“I think we have to be aligned [with England]. Just because there is a border, a wild bird does not necessarily respect it as it flies between farms.’

The business supplies major retailers and well-known brands, employing around 200 people year-round in rural Pembrokeshire.

Rob Cumin

Rob Cumine, of Capestone Organic Poultry, is calling for further government action

Reacting to the Welsh Government’s AIPZ as a means of managing the disease, Mr Cumine said he did not think it was enough.

“There’s a lot going on in the world at the moment and bird flu is one of the challenges facing the government but, for an individual business, when it affects you, it’s really devastating,” he said.

“I think there’s been a lack of government understanding and awareness. We’ve seen some announcements in England, a change in support and understanding of the impact, so hopefully we’ll see more in Wales.”

But for Ioan Humphreys, of Carno, Powys, who has 32,000 hens, the financial cost of keeping them indoors would also be a concern.

“The herd really enjoys being outside,” he said.

“It would have a big effect on them, it would stress them out, it would increase my feed prices. I should buy more equipment in the shed to keep the birds happy, more nibbles to keep them from getting too stressed. so it would put a financial strain on the business.”

Ioan Humphreys

Ioan Humphreys, of That Welsh Farmer, says a housing order would put him under financial pressure

Farming associations are also calling on the Welsh Government to closely monitor the development of the disease.

NFU Cymru spokesman and poultry farmer Llŷr Jones, from Corwen, Denbighshire, expressed his daily fear of bird flu.

“We have almost as many cases as last year and we’re just days away from winter,” he said.

“Why did we have a stay-at-home order last year and why don’t we this year even though we have more cases?”

Mr Jones’ hens are spread over 40 acres (16 hectares) of land.

He said: “I don’t know how many birds fly over this earth every day, but it would be big enough. Having them out, for me, is not if I get bird flu, but when.

“That’s why it’s important to have this hen housing law so that I can then make sure that no wild birds can get into my flock.”

He added: “I’m not sure how science in England is telling people to house them [the hens] and Welsh science is not.

“It just doesn’t make any sense and I just hope they change their minds very soon.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Having analyzed the available scientific evidence, we are not introducing compulsory poultry housing in Wales at this time.

“We will continue to monitor the situation in Wales. All keepers should keep their birds safe by strictly implementing biosecurity measures in the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone in Wales and be vigilant for signs of the disease.”

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