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Avian Influenza restrictions 2023: When can I let my chickens out?

It’s already been two months since our birds were put on flockdown, so naturally many of our supporters are asking us when the Avian Influenza restrictions will be lifted. 

Rather than let you read to the bottom of this article to find the answer, we’ll spare you some time. We simply do not know right now. 

In 2021-22 we experienced a housing order which lasted from late November until 2nd May, so it looks likely that we have several more months to endure before our birds can free range again.  

To date, there have been 275 cases of AI in England since 1st October 2022, with more cases being confirmed each day. 

Therefore it’s vital that you comply with the current restrictions in order to keep your birds safe and to protect against the spread of disease. 

Avian Influenza restrictions – how can I keep my birds safe? 

In order to halt the spread of the disease, the English and Welsh governments have implemented a compulsory housing order requiring all poultry keepers to implement strict biosecurity measures, and keep their birds undercover and away from wild birds.  

This housing order is a legal requirement and we encourage all new and experienced keepers to sign up to APHA’s disease alert service so you are aware of further updates. 

You can also register your hens with DEFRA, though this is only mandatory if you keep more than 50 birds.  

Advice on how to keep your hens safe can also be found on the APHA and Defra website, as well as on our dedicated Avian Influenza page. There are also many examples of what people have done on social media, showing how you can convert sheds, barns and even your conservatory into a safe hen space!  

Here is a summary of the current requirements to keep your hens safe: 

  • House or net all poultry and captive birds to protect them from the risk of wild bird faeces getting into the run/coop 
  • Clean and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing 
  • Reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and using effective vermin control 
  • Keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at strategic entry points, such as poultry and captive bird housing or enclosures 
  • Minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water are not accessible to wild birds 

With all of this in mind, it’s more important than ever to have some fun boredom busters in your run to keep your hens entertained and happy. 

There are so many things you can do – check out our chicken boredom busters guide, and let us know if we’ve missed anything! 

What are the symptoms of avian flu? 

The main symptoms of HPAI in poultry are depression, loss of appetite, cessation of egg-laying,  swelling and blue discolouration of combs and wattles due to disturbance of blood circulation, coughing, sneezing and diarrhoea. Sudden death can occur without any previous signs. 

Of course, these can be symptoms of many other issues, so getting to the bottom of what is wrong with your hens is vital before assuming they have Avian Influenza.  

If confirmed that it is in fact Avian Influenza, you should contact your nearest hen friendly vet who will either visit your hens or advise what you should do next. This should also be reported to APHA by calling 03000 200 301. 

Avian Influenza restrictions – when will the housing order end? 

We have been keeping a close eye on when the housing order may be lifted but, as of right now, there is still no certain date as to when we will be able to let our chickens out. Prevention and surveillance zones are still in force in many areas of the UK in addition to the housing orders in England and Wales. 

There is still over-riding concern that Avian Influenza may become endemic in domestic non-migratory wild bird population, which would give the disease a permanent foothold in the country. This would mean that AI would no longer be tied to the waterfowl migration season and instead be here all year round.  

It remains vitally important we keep backyard and commercial hens safe, by protecting them from wild birds. We are continuing to stay in close contact with DEFRA to gauge the situation over the coming months. 

What do I do if I see other keepers not complying with the rules?

Another question that we get asked is what to do when people see other hen keepers not complying with the housing order rules. Maybe you have a neighbour who is still letting their hens roam freely, or you visit an allotment where hens aren’t being kept undercover. What should you do?

Sometimes just approaching said neighbour and making sure they are aware of the situation is the best thing to do. You can always guide them to our website to show them the importance of keeping hens undercover right now.

Of course, if they are aware and still do nothing about it, Avian influenza controls are enforced by your local authorities, so contacting your local council is the best way to deal with the situation.

Is there a date for the housing order to end?

As of right now, there is still no certain date as to when we will be able to let our chickens out. There are still cases being monitored and prevention zones are still in force in many areas of the UK.

We must be concerned about the danger of the highly pathogenic strain becoming endemic in the domestic non-migratory wild bird population, which would give the disease a permanent foothold in the country. This would mean that AI would no longer be tied to the waterfowl migration season and instead be here permanently.

It remains to be seen how this would impact domestic pet hen keepers and the industry as a whole, but if this were to happen it would seriously affect the way we rehome hens across the UK.

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