Avian influenza is with us again.  From 00:01 hours on Monday 29th November all our poultry is back in lockdown….. APHA (Animal & Plant Health Authority) outbreak alerts have been pinging into my phone with alarming regularity – all proving to be highly pathogenic. So what do you have to do to keep your poultry safe?

Deb Howe, Director Eggucation

22nd November 2021

If you had been near my phone in the last few weeks, the regular text alerts pinging in mught have fooled you into thinking I was popular…..😂 but an alarming number of the notifications have been from APHA warning of yet another outbreak of Avian Influenza H5N1. Just this morning a text pinged in with FOUR outbreaks in the same text. And some parts of north Yorkshire are already on lockdown…..

Whether you run a huge commercial free range broiler set up, or have two pet hens in the back garden, the issues are the same. H5N1 is a devastating virus that we need to protect our birds from.

From 00:01hours on Monday 29th November all our poultry is back in lockdown…..

From this point, all poultry must be in covered runs….and by covered they mean the top must at the least be netted to prevent access by wild birds. So read on for what it all actually means for your hens….

Covered runs…?

If you have a small run and can indeed put solid roofing sheets on…clear or otherwise…then you will be grateful in more ways than one for the reduction in mud etc that will give you! But otherwise any netting with holes small enough to prevent wild bird ingress is fine. Please bear in mind this top netting I’m discussing isn’t a fox proof protection. I use electric around my pens to prevent that so if you need fox proofing you need to look at very heavy gauge wire. The subject of another blog!

Many people advice using scaffold debris netting, and it does work well and it relatively cheap, but a word of warning. It holds snow. So if your pen sides/construction can’t take that weight in a heavy snowstorm over winter, you are going to struggle in the snow. I learned the hard way and had pens crushed by that weight a good few years ago when I tried it, the snow was so heavy it brought the sides of the run in on themselves. Not good. 

The recommended mesh size is 25mm, but in areas of higher snow fall – ie on the top of our big hill, up to 50mm is allowed. So I use pheasant netting. It is compliant with regulations, easy to put up, allows snow through, and is UV stable and lasts for years. I attach it to the sides of my Heras runs with zip ties and all it needs is an occasional retighten.  

Pheasant netting used to roof a run. 

General Biosecurity

Not something the average back garden keeper might spend a lot of time thinking about. This bit isn’t rocket science. 

Make sure your feeders and waterers are all clean, and inside the coop, or make a little feed shelter for the run to ensure they are effectively under cover at all times. If you do put the feed in the run in the day, ensure the feed is locked away inside at night though, as you need to keep rodents out as they might carry disease in to your run. Rats and mice need to be humanely controlled. 

Keep your feet clean….! Have a tray/bucket with lid at the entrance to your pen. I use old sheep lick buckets. Use a Defra approved disinfectant in the tray/bucket – (See the list in the links below, but Jeyes fluid is acceptable at the correct concentration, so you don’t need to buy special farm disinfectant) dip your feet (the soles of your boots) before entering the run. Don’t use the same boots for walking the dog out in the open countryside as your ‘hen boots’ if you can. Minimise visitors to your birds and make sure they follow strict biosecurity too – especially if they have poultry too. 

Keeping your hens happy. 

And what can you do inside the run to keep things interesting and clean whilst your birds are cooped (lol) up? 

I use wood chip from my local tree surgeon. I prefer hard wood,  and a chip that doesn’t contain a lot of small bits and leaf. You definitely have to avoid yew as it’s poisonous. Make sure it’s at least 2” deep and if you can put some netting or chicken wire around the bottom of your run to stop it all leaking out when they scratch through it all the better. In the spring take it all out and pop it on the compost heap…rocket fuel for the veg patch. 

You cannot feed kitchen scraps to your birds. But so long as fruit and veg has not been through your kitchen, its a great way to entertain the birds. If you have not yet cleaned out your veg patch after the summer, throw the weeds and plants into the run for a scratch around. Hang up cabbages and apples on strings. Providing the birds with a dry tray of sand for a dust bath, especially on sunny days, will make you very popular!!

It’s likely this housing order will last until Spring now, so we are looking at 4 months at least.  Check out the links below for more detailed advice and regulations, as well as DEFRA’s interactive map to show you the outbreaks relative to where you are, and what that means for you. 

Birds enjoy scratching in woodchip – make sure it does not contain poisonous wood like Yew – ring your local tree surgeon as many will be happy to deliver chip to you. 

Bird Flu Part 1 – How do I keep my hens healthy in lockdown? was last modified: November 26th, 2021 by Deb Howe