Bird Flu Lockdown Blues

Bird Flu Lockdown – How to cope

Now that the UK has been gripped by the UK wide poultry lockdown for avian influenza, many poultry keepers are feeling quite unprepared. The problem with keeping chickens is that they require space to remain healthy and content. It doesn’t take them long to start bickering and getting troublesome with their coop mates.

The lockdown is from 29th November 2021 is until further notice. This could be weeks or more likely it will continue until all migratory birds have moved on. No point in trying to rush it. It will be lifted when it is no longer a threat and not before. This could be up to April.

Examples of stress behaviour in chickens can be:

  • constant pacing up and down
  • picking at each others feather
  • self mutilation
  • bullying of other flock members
  • making more noise than normal

All these things are the result of stress, they also result in more stress. Stress in chickens is the main thing that will reduce the ability of the immune response to function. Low immune response equals a health risk so therefore it follows that you need to reduce stress to as little as possible.

Of course if you are going to continue to keep chickens (and who wouldn’t) then you should really think about covering this eventuality. You need to ideally make a run area of a minimum of 1 square metre per hen but better if it is larger.

  1. The avian influenza lockdown UK rules are that you need to keep your birds under cover, preferably a roof, but netting is allowed.
  2. Netting hole size of 25mm is recommended but if you have a snow risk then 100mm square is suggested. Given the rules say you need to exclude wild birds and vermin a 100mm hole is not going to stop anything airborne that is smaller than an owl which seems pretty pointless, but hey ho. Them’s the rules. Exclude vermin from running over the ground and also munching on the chicken food. Both are disease spreading activities.
  3. Cover feed and water area so there is no possibility of contamination from above or vermin.

Methods of creating the Bird Flu lockdown “paradise”

  • Use Heras panels overlaid with net. Can be as permanent or temporary as you require. Can be picked up free or cheaply from freecycle
  • Use netting such as polypropylene netting from the likes of Collins nets for example. Available in lots of different sizes and is extremely strong. You can fix this to any structure with hooks, cable ties, string or bungees. Prop the centre up with a pole of wood. It wont need fixing if you tension the net as the friction will prevent movement. It will increase head height. A half tennis ball over the pole creates a surface which is less likely to damage the net. We have fixed our net to the fence and use a 2×2 post to prop up the middle. It is unaffected by snow.
  • Scaffold netting is commonly used to good effect. Snow will collapse it though.
  • Aviary panels such as 3 x 6 or similar can be cable tied together to form a run.
  • A polytunnel is a common method of providing a covered and cosy area.
  • Tarpaulin covers are useful to keep wild bird droppings from contaminating the ground below. Use a monotex tarp NOT a woven one. Woven tarps split and shred in a matter of a few days. Monotex comes in white or green with the white offering a more “daylight” feel.
  • Use “holdons” combined with elasticated bungee cord to provide secure anchor points to the tarp. The elastic enables the tarp to snap back when caught by the wind. Use ground screws or ground anchors which easily screw into the ground to provide a very secure attachment to prevent the wind taking the run elsewhere.

How to provide enrichment

  • Chickens require a dust bathing area. A tray or a tyre filled with loose earth is a welcome addition. Dust bathing is a group behaviour so make sure it can fit more than one chicken.
  • Your chickens will love to dig as hunting for bugs is their main occupation. A pile of leaf litter or just some loose soil or wood chippings will cater to their need to excavate. It keeps them busy and busy chickens are happy chickens. Be aware that wood chippings will get dirty over time and will need cleaning. Bare soil that is dug over is much the healthiest surface, as air in the soil encourages the composting microbes to do their job. Add some Nadins hydramix lime to rake over to keep the area disinfected ever few weeks.
  • If the ground is damp then top dress with Easibed which is a wood based bedding. This stays pretty free draining and they can dig in it too.
  • Your chickens will need somewhere to lay if they don’t have access to their regular nest area. A box or crate with suitable nesting material will keep them happy. If they have not started laying yet then don’t worry.
  • Don’t provide a mirror as some people advocate. Mirrors are just reminding the chickens that there are strangers in their precious territory which need dealing with. This is stressful so don’t do it. They need to feel secure in their environment, so don’t provide a perceived threat.
  • Hang veggies from the roof just out of reach so they need to jump to reach them. A cabbage with a screw eye fastened to the core will keep them occupied. Corn on the cob fed in a fat ball feeder or apples or whole carrots fed the same way will be good boredom busters.
  • Don’t be tempted to think they need these treats all day as their diet should be mostly their normal pellets to ensure they get enough of the correct nutrition.
  • Mixed corn that has been drizzled with cod liver oil (the horsey type) just so it glistens slightly is a good bedtime treat in winter. As it’s a rich source of vitamin D it will help keep them healthy when they have no access to sunshine.
  • If all else fails, put one of your favourite potted plants in with them. They will have it uprooted and converted into a dust bath in short measure. This is my favourite way of clearing out old pots ready for the spring. Chickens are fabulous at making a bare canvas. They eat all the grubs and pests in there too.

The informaton to the right has come from the CDC (Centre for Disease Control in the USA). It gives a more detailed explanation of the risks to human health from the various variants of Avian Influenza. The fact that the risk exists is the reason for the lockdown

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