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Warnings of Poultry Litter Botulism Risk

29 October 2012

UK - As the winter housing period, approaches, the AHVLA is warning farmers of the risks to livestock from poultry litter used as bedding material.

The use of poultry (most often broiler) litter can lead to outbreaks of botulism in bedded livestock - mostly cattle - and some farms have suffered repeated outbreaks of disease as a result of continuing this practice over several years.

AHVLA has always advised against the use of poultry litter as bedding material because of the risk of botulism, and now emphasises that this is also an illegal practice under the Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2011 (and similar legislation in Scotland and Wales).

Under these regulations, poultry litter is treated as manure, defined as a Category 2 animal by-product with prescribed permitted uses and disposal routes. Although poultry litter may be applied to farmland without processing where AHVLA does not consider there to be a risk of spreading disease, use of such material as bedding for other livestock is not an approved use under the Regulation. If farmers use poultry litter as bedding for other stock there is also the risk of committing an offence under the Animal Welfare Act (England) 2006 (and similar legislation in devolved administrations) if animals suffer unnecessarily or are caused harm as a direct consequence of such action.

Robert Hogg, a veterinary investigation officer, at the AHVLA said: “We continue to see cases of botulism in cattle and sheep exposed to broiler litter, mainly whilst at pasture. That is why we advise against the use of litter on any grassland, as there is concern that the litter may contain botulinum toxin which is known to remain potent for long periods.

"Animals have become affected through direct access to litter when it has been heaped or spread in the field where they are grazing, and indirectly from litter in neighbouring fields, possibly as the result of movement of material in the litter by scavenging birds and animals. Animals fed silage made from fields fertilised with broiler litter are also known to have succumbed to disease. We therefore recommend livestock are kept away from litter waiting to be spread, that litter is applied only to arable land, and that it is ploughed in immediately.”

Further Reading

Find out more information on botulism by clicking here.

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