It’s bad news for the girls as DEFRA have announced today that the 30 day Prevention Zone that was due to come to an end on Friday will now be extended until at least the 28th February. This follows the discovery of birds infected with the highly contagious H5N8 strain in England, Scotland and Wales meaning that, as feared, it has definitely now crossed the channel and entered wild bird populations here in the UK.
Well, you should already have been keeping your birds housed in a way that keeps them separate from any contact with wild birds. This usually means a netted and covered run area (though I know of some brilliantly creative solutions including a large cabin tent and a daily “minibus” to a polytunnel!) It doesn’t have to be complicated, just make sure that there aren’t any gaps big enough for a wild bird to enter through and make sure that there’s a cover to prevent any droppings entering the run from above. You should also be implementing further biosecurity measures to disinfect and clean your shoes when entering and exiting the run or housing to prevent cross contamination. A seed tray filled with DEFRA recommended disinfectant (not just Dettol) and a special pair of ‘coop shoes’ will do the job.
I was lucky in that I designed my run with such a scenario as this in mind. The chicken shed has a large attached run that is completely enclosed with fine wire mesh, giving them a safe outside space. The roof of the pen is usually covered with heavy duty fruit netting so that no bird can enter from outside. For the purposes of excluding any droppings I have covered the run with a large shade sail and a shower curtain tied down and stapled in place. I have a special pair of shoes by the back door that aren’t worn anywhere else and a small tray of disinfectant by the coop door. The wild bird feeders have been removed from the back garden and relocated away from my hens. With these simple measures I hope I will be able to keep my girls safe for the duration of this outbreak.
But what about boredom? If your hens are used to having a lot of free range time then you may feel that you’re depriving them by keeping them enclosed. I’m quite lucky in that my girls are couch potato hens and haven’t been that interested in going outdoors since the cold weather set in. I make sure they have access to fresh greens, a couple of treat bouncers and some scattered corn to keep them busy. A Christmas gift of a chicken swing will soon be added to their already diverse collection of perches (my girls love being able to access different levels!) A homemade ‘chicken football’* can provide hours of entertainment if your hens can figure it out… mine, not so much. (*Peanut butter or similar plastic jar with two holes drilled in it and filled with mixed seed for them to kick and peck about.)
Hopefully we will be able to see this next month through and get back to free ranging in time for spring… just in time for them to destroy my spring planting, I can’t wait!
For more information and to keep up to date you can see the official guidance here: