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Bird migration season and your hen’s health

With winter approaching our thoughts turn to the annual wild bird migration and the impact that this can have on our own pet hen’s health.  

As always, Avian Influenza is the top of all pet hen keepers’ thoughts at this time of year and, as we publish this article, a mandatory housing order is in place across England to prevent the spread of the disease. 

This means anyone keeping poultry in the country must keep them indoors or undercover to prevent them coming into contact with wild birds, who are the primary spreaders of AI. 

It is at this time of year that migratory waterfowl enter the country which increases the risk of all birds contracting avian flu. 

The current risk for an introduction of Avian Influenza (AI) into poultry is high, meaning strong biosecurity measures must be taken to keep your hens safe. 

What happens during bird migration season?

The bird migration season is awe-inspiring, with birds travelling huge distances to reach the UK in spring and autumn. At this time of year birds are travelling south in search of food and milder weather, with many ending up on our shores. 

However, wild waterfowl such as ducks and geese, can be carriers of diseases such as AI, which is a highly contagious notifiable disease. 

During the bird migratory season, the UK bird population is at higher risk; in wetland areas where native birds may share space with newly arrived waterfowl the disease can spread into the wider bird population. 

What can pet hen keepers do during bird migration season to protect their pets? 

The important thing to consider here is prevention. Avian flu is present in the UK meaning biosecurity must be to of your priority list. 

There are simple ways to keep your pets safe, happy and healthy: 

  • Remove any wild bird feeders from the vicinity of your chicken run 
  • Keep your hens’ feeders and drinkers undercover 
  • Clear up spilled feed regularly to discourage vermin 
  • Disinfect hard standing areas regularly 
  • You must, by law, keep your birds in a netted run area – this netting must be small gauge, or covered in tarpaulin so that wild bird droppings cannot fall through 
  • A simple boot dip used when you enter or leave your chicken run can be made from a plastic storage box and viricidal disinfectant 

Even when avian flu is not a consideration, it is good practice to maintain hygiene and check your birds routinely for signs of illness. Secure rodent-free accommodation and a commitment to daily care is key. 

How can I be notified of AI outbreaks?

Signing up to the DEFRA poultry register will mean that you receive a text message if you live in a high-risk area. 

Registration is compulsory if you keep more than 50 birds. You can sign up here. 

If you do not wish to register your hens but would like to receive alerts regarding AI, you can subscribe to the Animal and Plant Health Agency disease alert service here.   

Avian Influenza symptoms

Birds typically have a blue facial colouring with sneezing, coughing, weight loss and head shaking (although many of these symptoms are found with other diseases).

Sadly, with the Highly Pathogenic strain (HPAI) most infected birds do not survive. Those infected with the Low Pathogenic strain (LPAI) show milder symptoms and can recover. Any suspected cases must be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) here. 

You can find the latest government advice here

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