Chicken lockdown.

So, for the past few weeks we’ve been in lockdown, with the poultry not allowed out to free range due to the risk of bird flu, H5N8. As for most backyard poultry keepers this has been a bit of a logistical ¬†nightmare, and the DEFRA guidelines have not been particularly clear. This (supposedly) highly pathogenic strain is spread by infected wild birds, and can be spread to domestic poultry by contact with contaminated food, water or droppings. We are advised to keep poultry housed, but where this was not possible under a covered run that should not be accessed by wild birds. All feed and water is to be kept in the house.

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The ducks have have not been too problematic, with only three of them we have shut them in the propagation greenhouse near the house. They are safe from predators and have a nice fresh bucket of water everyday to keep themselves clean and I top up the bark chippings on the floor weekly to keep it dry and comfortable for them.

The trio of Dutch bantams are in an ark which I have covered with feed sacks to keep the wild birds out with the end netted for ventilation. Feed and water in the house. Sorted.

My biggest dilemma was the main laying flock. We’ve got about a dozen laying hens that we keep in a large fenced pen. It is far too big to net over the top. With the water and feed placed in the house itself the hens were just not utilising it. Food wasn’t being eaten, and more worryingly they were not touching their water. Their house itself is too small to have birds shut in for any length of time. Like many smallholders we have got a variety of outbuildings and sheds, they are, however,¬†filled with junk all in use.

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I decided to move the hay from its designated shed to an unused greenhouse further away on the veg plot. This involved first clearing the greenhouse of weeds, empty pots and other veg plot paraphernalia and getting some pallets down to make sure the bales weren’t in contact with the damp ground and spoil. With the hay shed cleared, I used a pallet on edge as a perch and to divide the area in two, added a low shelf for the chooks to nest under, and a big, shallow bucket of sand for scratching and dust bathing. There is a stable door on the front, so I made a wire screen to go on the top half to improve ventilation and let in some much needed daylight.

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So far the hens have been reasonably happy with this set up. I make sure they get a cabbage or apple to peck at everyday, and a scattering of corn on the ground. We’ve had a few eggs, but will all be very relieved when this period of confinement is over, and in the meantime I’m going to make the most of it and have a sort out in their existing house and run. I’d love to hear from you if you have any other tips to keeping your birds entertained while confined!

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You can find out what Defra suggests for poultry keepers here