Just before Christmas, there was a tiny news report on the television reporting an outbreak of avian flu. If you blinked, you missed it.
Unfortunately for poultry across the UK, the result was very misleading advice from Defra about what poetry keepers should do.
Their chief vet imposed a restriction on birds and suggested keepers “must house their birds away from wild birds” in order to minimise the threat of a spread of infection.
People chose to act on this as they saw fit. Some totally covered their bird houses and coops. Caught ducks and geese from their ponds and farm yards and housed them in barns or simply moved the food and water inside to minimise the chance of spread.
The measures were in place until January 6th when more cases of Avian flu were reported in other parts of the UK including Wales, Scotland and England.
Poultry forums across the land were alive with worried keepers stressing about the effect on their animals-many of whom had birds used to a free range lifestyle, the amount of people ignoring Defra’s so-called “advice” and those who simply didn’t think it applied to them.
The problem is, unlike other farm animals, unless you have 50 or more birds, you don’t have to register your flock with Defra by law. Therefore, there are literally hundreds, possibly thousands of people across the land with a small number of chickens, ducks or other poultry in their back gardens who either are not aware of the measures or, as I have seen online, don’t think it applies to them because their animals are pets.
Avian flu does not discriminate against pets. Whether birds are commercial or pets, they are all at risk of avian influenza and biosecurity measures should be adhered to.
The problem for us, like many other people was what to do with our small flock. We constructed* a small, roofed enclosure ajasent to the original large coop. With it being winter though, the grass became muddy and, for my feather footed pekins, it was getting dire.
Thankfully, when our last lambs of 2016 went to market earlier this week, it left a chicken-sized hole in one of our barns. Well, an old stable to be precise.
My chicken saviour added a perch and a nest box and they are near a door so they will still benefit from natural light which they need for laying.
They were transported the short distance in a building bag. Don’t worry we made a few trips.
For once in there little lives though, my lovely pekins might get dry fluffy feet for a change.
We have added a screen above the stable door so that foxes can’t get in and, fingers crossed, they will be fine there until we get the all clear from Defra. Goodness knows when that will be.
Up until now, the enforcement is in place until February 28th, 2017. It is going to be a long Spring if the ban continues.
It is affecting poultry and livestock markets as well as breeders as they are unable to buy or sell stock and traditionally, Spring can be one of the busiest times.
Hatching eggs are not affected though so I am hoping to get hold of some for later in the year.
For large scale poultry farmers, they would have to implement a bio-security plan to show any officials who may make spot checks.
Technically, wherever chickens and other poultry are kept, keepers should disinfect vehicles and footwear as well as all housing and equipment at the “end of a production cycle” which I believe must refer to chickens reared for intensive egg laying and meat.
Despite the misleading advice I have seen, there is, apparently a penalty of around £5000 or three months in prison for anyone found breaking the enforcement rules.
So what can you do to amuse your bored hens? Basically provide them with amusement. Old CDs work well hung up for them to peck. Corn inside plastic bottles with small holes so that they can peck it out. A variety of different foods for them to peck at and, if they are usually free range, make sure you give them enough grit to ensure the egg shells are hard and healthy as access to natural grit will be sparse in the confines of their temporary homes, wherever they are.
I’m sure the goat’s new neighbours will get on fine until the ban lifts. While we can’t explain why they are no longer having full reign of their roomy field, it is better than the alternative of them getting ill and dying.
For more information and for live updates, you can visit the Avian Flu area of the Defra website and they have a guide to bio-security for information. Maybe you will be able to fathom it all out better than me.
*I say we constructed. I sort of barked orders from afar.