The British Goose Producers held their Spring meeting in the beautiful setting of Robert and Claire Symington’s ‘Seldom Seen Farm‘ in Leicestershire. The view from the kitchen window is idyllic, with lambs in the field, and just waiting for the geese for next Christmas that will arrive in a few months’ time. But there is a serious worry for goose producers, and that is bird flu.

As a country the UK has just passed 100 days of the latest outbreak of H5N8 avian influenza. An unwanted milestone and one that we have no wish to see repeated. Unfortunately, bird flu is now expected to be an annual occurrence and producers large and small have to find a way to cope with it. All the members of the BGP are determined to do the right thing, as they are acutely aware that the effects of one incident of bird flu can disrupt trade on a national scale and cost businesses tens of thousands of pounds.

Goose producers are likely to be on the front-line in protecting against bird flu. Geese spend the majority of their lives foraging outside over large ranges, and so are exposed to wild birds that may be carrying the disease. BGP members discussed the ways in which small producers can take positive steps, and will be developing a protocol based on the Defra checklist to help the group. Every farm will have different challenges, but by sharing information and experiences there will be a network of good practice.

Areas to consider include:

  • Decontamination and separation of outside areas
  • Discouraging wild birds from landing on the range
  • Netting or covering ponds and waterlogged areas
  • Removing feeders and water stations from the range
  • Regular inspections for signs of rodent access
  • Separation of waterfowl and poultry
  • Dedicated footwear and disinfectant foot dips
  • Cleansing and disinfection of vehicles on entry and exit
  • Cleansing and disinfection of equipment

The meeting also discussed ways to engage with local communities to raise awareness with the public, such as those using public footpaths that cross farm land, or encouraging holders of backyard flocks to take similar sensible precautions. There was serious concern that it only takes one failure of biosecurity, in any sized farm, to land other producers in a control zone that at the wrong time of year could destroy a livelihood.

The British Goose Producers are taking seriously the threat of bird flu, and are confident that by working with Defra, APHA, vets, and the BPC, and by sharing good practice, then goose will be firmly on the menu next Christmas.