Farmers are stepping up a series of biosecurity measures as bird flu cases continue to spread in the region.
A new outbreak this week brings the number of cases in East Anglia to seven since February 26, with protection zones being put in place to prevent further spread.
National Farmers’ Union regional director Gary Ford made a desperate plea to farmers and poultry owners to follow the advice and keep their birds indoors at all times.
He said: “These latest cases are of concern to the vital poultry sector in our region and underscore just how significant the risk still posed by avian influenza is. This is a difficult time for all bird owners and vigilance is essential.
“We rely on all bird keepers, whether they have a small backyard flock or a commercial enterprise to follow the enhanced biosecurity and housing measures in place and to report any signs of illness in their birds to their veterinarian or Animal and Plant. Health Agency (Apha).
“The NFU is in close daily contact with Apha and we are working to support all members who are affected.”
Following an outbreak at Gressingham Foods near Redgrave last month which resulted in the culling of 35,000 ducks, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has set up a 3 km (two mile) protection zone and a 10 km (six mile) protection zone surveillance zone, requiring increased biosecurity measures and imposing restrictions on the movement of poultry within it.
One of the farmers in the 10km protection zone, Philip Brown, now keeps his flock of more than 500 free-range chickens indoors, but warned poultry owners would not be able to withstand the cost of the measures if they continued.
“The conversations I have with other farmers are the same,” said Mr Brown, who runs The Ultimate Joint from his farm in Finningham Road, Rickinghall.
“They are all starting to worry. We have put in place all possible security measures.
“All the birds are indoors, under metal roofs or netting to keep wild birds away.
“But keeping the birds indoors means you have to use more energy. They eat more when they’re sitting indoors doing nothing – and the price of feed keeps rising.
“Now we have to plan for the coming winters. We need to plan ahead in case this continues to happen.
Mr Brown added that if he were forced to cull his flock it would not only cost him around £5,000 but he would have to wait until his farm was disinfected and a new flock of chickens reached the size he needed could sell them, taking up to six months in total.
Following the Redgrave outbreak last month, Gressingham Duck said in a statement: “Over the weekend there was a confirmed outbreak of bird flu in a local backyard flock which placed many of our facilities in control areas.
“Unfortunately, a Label Vert duck farm has been confirmed to be a carrier of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1.
“The farm has taken every precaution and there has been no movement of birds or other material off the premises. The farm is now under Apha’s control.
Bird keepers in the protection zone must clean and disinfect everything that comes into contact with captive birds and keep records of people entering or leaving their premises.
The UK’s chief veterinarian has now urged all poultry farmers in Suffolk to keep birds indoors after outbreaks, whether or not they are in a surveillance zone.
The East of England contains more than a fifth of England’s poultry farms and the regional value of poultry meat was £557m in 2018.
The region produces around 41% of England’s turkeys, with some 14,000 people employed in meat and poultry processing.