GOVERNMENT officials are testing for bird flu after a sick chicken at a smallholding near Chard showed telltale symptoms of the disease.

Vets from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, took away blood, faeces and saliva samples from 12 hens at Stony Knaps, Winsham, on Wednesday.

The birds are being tested for bird flu and Newcastle disease - which is lethal to poultry but harmless to humans.

The results were due yesterday, (Thursday, May 31) but are now expected on Monday.

DEFRA says this is because laboratory officials are still stretched by a confirmed outbreak of bird flu in north Wales.

The owner of the Winsham hens, Melanie Johnson, alerted officials after discovering one sick on Tuesday evening.

She said: "She had a swollen head and a huge blood clot in the roof of her mouth. I have had sick birds before but I've never seen anything like that."

Mrs Johnson explained the symptoms to a vet, who referred the matter to DEFRA.

A vet from the department visited within an hour and the hen was put to sleep and taken to Starcross laboratory in Exeter for testing.

Two vets returned on Wednesday to test more of Mrs Johnson's hens, which have not been destroyed.

Mrs Johnson said: "I've got about 20 hens in isolation in a barn. They are showing respiratory distress - coughing and sneezing - but they are not sick enough to be put down."

A DEFRA spokesman said until the test results were available no restrictions would be placed on the movement of people or animals to and from Mrs Johnson's property - a farmhouse and half an acre of land on the outskirts of the village.

He said: "We carry out about 20 tests for suspected avian flu in the Somerset area every year. At this stage, there is nothing to raise concerns."

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For more information on bird flu and what to do in the event of a suspected outbreak, click on the link below.