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Diary of a poultry intern
  1. William Garton

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William Garton, poultry intern with the Minster Veterinary Practice, attends a conference of free-range egg producers and finds they have a positive outlook despite avian influenza among other looming issues.

The breaking of bad news requires empathy and compassion; it is a skill that I was able to rehearse as a veterinary student during client interaction sessions with trained actors. As a poultry vet, the bad news to be broken can be very different from that given to the small animal owner whose pet may require euthanasia or to the equine trainer whose horse is unable to compete.

Imagine the bad news to be broken is that you suspect the presence of a notifiable disease, that you will have to call in government vets and that you are unable to allow movements on or off the site. Now imagine how that catastrophic news could impact on business turnover, on livelihood and on the public perception of an entire industry. Fortunately, it wasn't me, the new graduate, who suspected the latest outbreak of avian influenza (AI) in east Yorkshire last month, who had to make the notifying phone call and then break the bad news. Although I did receive training as a student on how to approach a situation like this, headline news such as bird flu can have heavy and long-lasting repercussions on clients and the industry as a whole, and it is these that are harder to envisage as a new graduate.

Even as a new graduate, I've already started relaying advice and guidance to my younger counterparts. This month I was invited to speak at a local Young Farmers' Club. I was surprised, given the farming interests among the audience, at the underestimated projections these future farmers had of the magnitude of the UK poultry industry. For example, the highest guess at UK broiler production was 16 million a year; it is over 850 million. The significance of the UK poultry industry has become more apparent with the AI outbreak; for instance, figures suggested there were over 60 registered poultry premises within the protection zone (3 km radius from infected premises) and around 110 within the surveillance zone (10 km radius). The AI outbreak may have occurred in a particularly poultry-dense area of east Yorkshire, yet there remains a lack of public perception and understanding over the presence and proportion of poultry in UK livestock production.

Minster's poultry interns, Alexandra McDaniel and William Garton, fly the practice flag at the BFREPA conference

Conference season has kept the sector busy during the autumn. I attended the British Free Range Egg Producers' Association (BFREPA) annual conference in Solihull this month and was pleased to pick up the positive outlook of the free-range division, given some of the current issues it faces, not just AI. The looming beak trimming ban planned for 2016 remains a hot topic of debate. Combined efforts of BFREPA, the University of Bristol and the Beak Trimming Action Group have encouraged the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Eggs, Pigs and Poultry to advise the Government against a ban. Continual pressure from welfare organisations regrettably shadow efforts made by the free-range sector to gratify not only the lobbyists, but veterinary professionals, welfare standard experts and consumers. I wonder what views each stakeholder carries on the impending ban with the inevitable welfare implications.

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