A total of 125,000 laying hens have been culled at a unit run by Ready Eggs Products in Lisnaskea as a result of the discovery of salmonella gallinarum.

And yesterday (Wednesday) there was a cull of 24,000 birds at an unrelated poultry farm, a contract farm breeder for Moy Park, outside Lisnaskea.

A Moy Park spokesperson said : "A number of days ago it was reported in the media that salmonella was identified at a commercial egg laying farm in Fermanagh. This farm has no association with Moy Park.

"However, Moy Park sources from a contract breeder unit in the area and has decided to cull 24,000 birds on that farm as a precaution. This precautionary move demonstrates how effective the screening procedures are within the industry." The Ready Eggs Products cull of a third of its flock, which took place in recent weeks, came after the outbreak of salmonella gallinarum, a rare, non-notifiable disease among chickens that is said not to pose a risk to humans.

The decision to cull the hens came to stop the spread of disease, said Mr. Charles Crawford, Director of Ready Egg Products, which is based at Manorwaterhouse on the Crom Road and is one of the largest egg producers in Ireland.

Mr. Crawford noticed a problem when "hens started to die".

"That is basically what the disease is about. We started to notice it four weeks before we culled. The cull took place two weeks ago," said Mr.Crawford "If you work with livestock and are a farmer, or interview any farmer, he would be familiar with death. It is not new to the farmer," he said.

Business is continuing as usual, he said. "We have had a problem and we have dealt with it. There is no danger to human beings. The decision was taken to stop the spread of the disease," he said.

The firm is to take veterinary advice before increasing flock numbers but they are hoping to do that "as soon as possible".

The firm is now undertaking a deep clean of the colony where the infected birds were kept.

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) said it is aware that salmonella gallinarum has been detected on premises in Fermanagh.

"This type of salmonella is non-notifiable and the control of the disease is a matter for any companies involved. The Department is keeping in touch with the industry in relation to the situation.

"This outbreak is unusual in two ways, firstly isolation of salmonella gallinarum is rare in Ireland and secondly in this form it is more commonly a disease of backyard flocks rather than commercial ones. Salmonella gallinarum is a poultry adapted strain of Salmonella bacteria and is considered to pose a minimal risk to humans.

"The disease is caused by one of the two poultry-adapted strains of salmonella bacteria, salmonella gallinarum. It can cause mortality in birds of any age. Broiler parents and brown-shell egg layers are especially susceptible.

"Chickens are most commonly affected but it also infects turkeys, game birds, guinea fowls, sparrows, parrots, canaries and bullfinches. Infections still occur worldwide in non-commercial poultry but are rare in most commercial systems now.

"Morbidity is 10-100 per cent; mortality is increased in stressed or immunocompromised flocks and may be up to 100 per cent. The route of infection is oral or via the navel/yolk. Transmission may be transovarian or horizontal by faecal-oral contamination, egg eating etc, even in adults. The bacterium is fairly resistant to normal climate, surviving months, but is susceptible to normal disinfectants.

"Signs of disease include dejection, ruffled feathers, inappetance, thirst, yellow diarrhoea and reluctance to move," added the spokesman.