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News from the farm   |   Animal welfare

Chicken lockdown

Organic farms are the best place to be when there’s a Housing Order (lockdown) due to an outbreak of avian flu, because the flock density (number of birds permitted per square metre of space) is so much lower than other systems.

The birds have loads of room in the sheds, so they’re not on top of each other, and really they’re in the best place possible.

Because under organic standards we don’t do any debeaking (trimming birds’ beaks so they can’t peck each other, a common practice in other farming systems, including free range), it’s especially important that we keep the hens occupied; if they do get bored and start squaring up to each other, they can cause damage.

Chicken lockdown
Chickens across the UK are facing their own lockdown due to a bird flu outbreak. 

Add a simple thing like a red bucket – for some reason they’re attracted to red – and you get this noise of beaks tapping on plastic as they have fun investigating it. We do whatever we can to make it more enjoyable for them.

They like leftover fruit and veg, and we also grow a nutritious crop called ‘lucerne’ to leave in the sheds, which looks like green bales of hay and which the birds like to peck at.

Bird flu is something we’ve always lived with; it comes and goes, as it’s all to do with migrating birds. I guess you could compare it to the modern day flu in humans, and the real problem is when species of wild bird can carry it without being affected.

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Swings, ramps and buckets keep the flock entertained while indoors. 

We get a good heads up from Europe as they’re the first ones to see what species are carrying it, so we can work out if they’re going to hit our shores. It’s just one of those things, you’ve got to be on top of your game in terms of biosecurity and reduce the chances of it getting into your chickens.

It’s no different to our lockdown really. When you look at kids being home-schooled and the challenges that produces, especially now when they can’t get outside because the weather is miserable; tensions rise and it can become fractious, and that’s the same in chickens. You’ve got to fight that everyday boredom.

When you’ve put something new into the runs, initially they stand off, then they get closer and become more inquisitive, and then as soon as one comes over, they all follow. You just have to think a bit like a chicken, and you really can relate.

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Comments

Janet Kitching

1 Week 4 Days

Lovely to see happy chickens. How long do you keep them for?

1 Reply

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Comments Editor

6 Days 21 Hours

Hi Janet, they are happy chickens indeed! The average they are kept for is around 2 years, after which many are rehomed.

0 Reply

georgehibberd

1 Week 4 Days

It’s is crazy how flippantly you talk about avian bird flu. We are in a global pandemic that’s causing untold mayhem with just 1% mortality rate.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu is just one mutation away from jumping to humans, but has a terrifying 60% death rate!

When will we wake up to the fact that exploring animals, free range or not, is causing zoonotic diseases. Bird flu, swine flu, MERS, SARS, Covid and mad cow are just a few examples.

The Centre for Disease control has said that we need to urgently address our relationship with animals to avoid huge pandemics that will destroy modern society.

Please stop advocating for animal exploitation and start pushing for a plant-based veganic food system.

3 Replies

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Manduco Bene

1 Week 4 Days

The only problem with that is, that if everyone in the world went vegan what would happen to all the animals?

1 Reply

Mark W

1 Week 2 Days

If we stopped needing them we would stop breeding them.

0 Reply

Radish

1 Week 3 Days

I’m afraid I don’t wish to become vegan. I agree that we need to get rid of many of the high density animal farming practices but my 3 ex factory rescue chickens are happy and produce delicious eggs. They are undercover and receive veterinary attention when required, so far just a leg injury.

1 Reply

Comments Editor

6 Days 21 Hours

Hi Radish, great to hear that you have given your rescue chickens a happy home, and they are rewarding you with delicious eggs!

0 Reply

Comments Editor

6 Days 21 Hours

Hi George, Having greater biodiversity, reversing deforestation and removing intensive animal agriculture may be key in preventing future pandemics - this Wicked Leeks feature may be of interest https://wickedleeks.riverford.co.uk/news/biodiversity-farming/intensively-used-land-linked-disease-outbreaks

0 Reply

HenHetty

1 Week 3 Days

Thanks for the tips. I’ll go hunt for red items. My elderly rescues are definitely bored. They don’t fight, but they always want me to stay and hand feed them, I’m assuming for the company and variation. They’re too smart to be cooped up.

0 Reply

seasaltyjo

1 Week 2 Days

Have you been playing music to the hens while they are locked inside? I have heard that it can reduce stress.

1 Reply

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Comments Editor

6 Days 21 Hours

Yes - Riverford chicken farmers have done this and apparently the chickens find it very calming!

0 Reply

Duncan Janaway

Duncan Janaway produces eggs for organic veg box company Riverford from his flock of 10,000 hens on his farm in Hampshire. He also grows a range of organic and non organic crops, veg and cereals. 

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