We started keeping chickens so that we could free range them and raise them to high welfare standards. Unfortunately, bird flu (caused by the Avian Influenza virus) has become a large issue in the UK as well as across Europe, the USA and many other parts of the world. This means that at the moment free ranging all year round isn’t safe for our flock.
The risks to our flock are higher than normal at the moment with colder winter months favouring the spread of influenza type viruses and an influx of migratory wildfowl who are known to spread the disease. In Great Britain, this has resulted in a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures to protect their birds from bird flu.
What does that mean? Simple things like:
- Being able to clean and disinfect footwear at the entrances and exits of the enclosure.
- Discouraging wild birds from coming into the area with streamers high in our tree branches and CDs hanging that spin in the wind.
- Ensuring food and water is covered away from/out of sight of wild birds.
- Having appropriate rodent control around the area if there is evidence of rodents.
All sensible biosecurity measures for any chicken keeper. Find out how you can protect your flock by visiting GOV.UK.
Currently, there are also mandatory housing measures in place in England and Wales which means legally we must keep our chickens either indoors or a fully netted enclosure until the housing order is lifted.
Confining the chickens in a fully netted enclosure is not our chosen way of keeping them, but it’s preferable to losing them to Bird Flu. This is the third consecutive winter that birds have had to be housed and we’ve been refining it year on year so it’s a better home for them in winter.
We’re lucky enough to be able to provide 12 chickens with a space that is 21 metres long, by 3 metres wide and with a height of 2 metres. This means they can run and really get some speed up (wing assisted speed!) and fly if they really want to.
Nonetheless, boredom is still a challenge and I’m constantly looking for ways to keep them interested and engaged. Bored chickens can start to pick on each other and, in extreme cases, can cause physical injuries and even death. Chicken boredom busters don’t need to be expensive, in fact most of ours were completely free so let me tell you about a few of them
Our best boredom busters that are easily replicated are some old garden chairs. You’d be surprised how popular these are. You can find our hens either sitting on the seats (yes, on the seat!) or perched in the back of them. Depending on where I place them, they’ll also use them as a stepping stone to higher vantage points.
They don’t need to be garden chairs, anything that your chickens can perch on, or jump onto or down from will be popular. You could use an old box, a child’s garden climbing frame or even a stepladder, all options can help keep them entertained. The only advice I give is to ensure that anything that has the possibility of falling over is secured and anything that has the possibility of catching a claw isn’t used – so look out for cracks or holes.
Here’s a tip for you, move them around! Once they get bored just move their entertainment a few feet or to the other side of their enclosure and your flock will react like they’ve never seen the toys before!
Our next most popular boredom buster is our tractor tyre sand bath. Dust or sand bathing is a welfare requirement for chickens as it serves as a method of removing excess grease from their feathers and, ultimately, helps keep them clean (although it does seem counterintuitive to the non-chicken keeper!). The tractor tyre was donated by a farmer friend as it’s too worn to be useful to him and we filled it with builders’ sand although, we could just have easily filled it with dry soil. We’ve also given it a rain cover made from the top of a swing seat that I had and some left over metal roofing sheets from re-roofing one of our barns. Your arrangement doesn’t need to be this exact combination. A child’s sandpit is perfect or you could use a large plastic trug with sand or dry soil, or even the upturned base of a waterbutt. A rain cover could simply be a large piece of plywood propped up on an angle over the dust bath.
Our chickens are spoiled too with a large multi-level perch system, but honestly, I think they get just as much pleasure from the free garden chairs!
If you live in Great Britain and want more information click this link to find out how to protect your birds from bird flu.
You can also sign up to receive bird flu alerts from the Animal and Plant Health Agency. It’s quick and easy! Just visit the link here.