Reuters this week reported that poultry farmers should make sure to prevent sparrows, starlings, and pigeons from entering chicken houses because they could potentially infect poultry with the H5N1 bird flu virus.
I suppose that does make sense, but sounds rather impractical. Small birds have an amazing ability to worm (is that a suitable word?) their way into even the smallest of openings. Chimneys and vents are absolutely no problem for sparrows. It’s only a couple of months ago that I had to dismantle our heating system to release a trapped bird from the flu and there’s a tiny gap (half an inch?) between two roof tiles on our neighbour’s property into which starlings wantonly fly in and out on a daily basis.
Now, picture a chicken farm – I assume they’re referring to battery chickens rather than free range. Every chicken farm I’ve ever seen, and there are quite a few in this locale, has dodgy roof tiles, vents, ducts, openings, doors, even. And, dozens upon dozens of chickens feeding on all kinds of tasty grains and pellets. The temptation for any small bird is just too much and they flock in and out as often as they can get away with.
Admittedly, the article is referring mainly to small chicken coops, that are perhaps a little more manageable. But, that said, a poverty stricken keeper of a few domestic chickens may not have the means to repair one of those dodgy roofs even if it is small.
Regardless of what we do to protect poultry from H5N1 it is not likely that this viral strain specifically will be the culprit when a global pandemic gets underway. There are other strains, there are other viruses, the strain that will be P2P transmissable may already have jumped to another host, such as a pig on a Vietnamese smallholding or a cat in a Hong Kong market cage. It may even have made the leap to humans, in which case it is only a matter of time before it emerges into the wild.
No amount of fixing up chicken coops and keeping the starlings at bay is going to prevent that from happening.