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.
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.
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.