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Welfare for Housed Birds

Welfare for Housed Birds

When outbreaks of Avian flu strike, prevention zones require keepers of poultry and other captive birds to keep their birds indoors, or take practical steps to keep them separate from wild birds. 

What are the challenges while birds are housed?

Carefully managing the house environment and keeping the birds stimulated is key during this period. Birds that are used to going out, particularly older birds, may be stressed at the lack of outdoor access. Furthermore, stocking density will be increased, adding another stressor. Stress in flocks can lead to feather pecking, increased susceptibility to disease and reduced production so good house management is paramount.

How can high welfare be maintained while birds are housed?

Extra vigilance should be given, with the birds walked and checked more regularly to ensure welfare is not compromised. Providing enrichment is really important and can be achieved in the following ways:

  • By maintaining really good quality litter quality. Fresh, clean litter should be added to the scratch area frequently. Keeping it dry and friable gives hens material to forage and bathe in
  • Straw or hay bales can to provide additional enrichment and as a means to top up the litter
  • Organic pecking blocks or pans (if organic isn’t available immediately and you wish to use a non-organic block until an organic alternative is available, please contact your certification officer to request a derogation)
  • Providing additional dust baths in purpose built boxes or tractor tyres
  • Netted bags can be filled with organic hay, lucerne, alfalfa blocks or vegetables - brassicas work particularly well. If organic isn’t immediately available, again please contact us
  • Good biosecurity during this period is vital
  • When walking the birds monitor for signs of feather pecking, aggression or smothering.
  • Providing a mix of different enrichments will add novelty and help keep the birds interested

What can you do if you are unable to keep your birds housed or want to provide more space?

For some smaller poultry keepers it may not be possible to keep the birds housed. Enclosures can be made by putting up netting or by using areas under cover, such as polytunnels or barns. The aim should be to reduce the chance of wild bird activity in proximity to the birds. To reduce the risk, food and water must be kept inside so they can’t be contaminated by wild birds.

For more information, see Defra's Guidance on Avian Flu