Poultry keepers have been urged to provide extra enrichment for their pets to keep them ‘hentertained’ – as the UK Government’s new housing order in England sees poultry and captive birds placed under lockdown.
New housing measures to protect poultry and captive birds from avian influenza are now in force in England, with Scotland and Wales still considering measures.
From Monday 7 November, owners and keepers in England have been legally required to keep their birds indoors, to follow strict biosecurity measures and take appropriate steps to keep their birds separate from wild birds, whether they keep just one bird or thousands. The RSPCA strongly recommends that owners and keepers in England follow fully the UK Government’s biosecurity advice.
Kate Norman, poultry expert at the RSPCA, said: ‘We are sadly once again in the midst of a bird flu outbreak which has seen the UK Government take the necessary steps to issue a housing order for all keepers of birds in England.
‘Sadly, we fear these restrictions are going to become more and more frequent so it’s important that bird keepers understand what they need to do to stop the spread of the disease – while taking steps to ensure the welfare of their birds at these difficult times.
‘Keeping hens has become increasingly popular in recent years so it’s important that owners follow UK Government biosecurity advice, staying vigilant for signs of disease and ill health in their flocks, and seeking veterinary advice if they have any concerns for their birds.
‘It’s also important to report any suspected outbreaks of avian influenza to Defra. We would encourage all pet poultry owners to register their birds with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) so they can contact owners if there’s a disease outbreak in their area.’
The UK Government’s housing order only applies to England – but poultry keepers elsewhere have been urged to keep an eye on their government’s advice.
Kate added: ‘As Wales and Scotland continue to consider future measures, it’s really important owners keep a close eye on advice – including any biosecurity rules – and are ready to act accordingly if and when things change.’
Advice has also been offered to pet owners on how to keep their flock ‘hentertained’ whilst the housing orders are in place and beyond. From straw bales to hanging pieces of corn on the cob and tyres with sand in the middle, there are plenty of easy ways that pet owners can keep their birds happy indoors.
Kate added: ‘Moving cockerels and hens indoors, who have previously had access to the outside, can be quite stressful for them which is why it’s really important to make sure they have lots of enrichment to keep them happy. Having nothing to do can lead to boredom, stress and contribute to problems such as feather pecking.’
The RSPCA’s egg-cellent top tips
- Provide perches – hens naturally like to access raised perches where they will rest during the day and preen their feathers
- Straw bales and vegetables – providing these items give the hens something to peck at to encourage them to exhibit their natural behaviour and keep them active *Important do not feed kitchen scraps to poultry*
- Tyres filled with sand in the middle – this is a nifty way of encouraging hens to dust bathe which is something they’d usually do outside
- Verandas – if it is possible create a veranda for your ‘hen house’ this allows them to have more space, get natural light and fresh air while still keeping them safe from bird flu. Ensuring there is a solid cover on the roof such as perspex will reduce the risk of wild birds’ droppings entering the run
- Make a puzzle feeder out of old egg cartons or balls with a hole in the middle
For more information on what bird keepers need to do, please visit Defra’s website.
For those who are looking to bring a new pet bird into their lives, the RSPCA currently has nine cockerels, a chicken and six ducks available to rehome across its animal centres. Visit www.rspca.org.uk/findapet for more information.