The mandatory housing measures for poultry, which came into force this week (Monday, November 7), mean that all bird keepers are now legally required to keep their birds indoors and follow stringent biosecurity measures.

The housing measures have been introduced in response to the current avian influenza (bird flu) outlook, as it is hoped that keeping kept birds away from migrating wild birds will protect them from picking up the disease.

However, housing poultry can impact the welfare of the birds, and with that in mind, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is reminding poultry owners that they are responsible for the welfare of their birds while they’re housed.

It has published guidelines for poultry keepers to follow.

Guidelines from Defra:

  • Make sure the animals are not overcrowded;
  • Make sure they have natural light where possible – do not keep them permanently in the dark (artificial light should follow typical day and night patterns);
  • Make sure there is adequate ventilation – adult birds will tolerate low temperatures but may not tolerate high temperatures (consider installing a thermometer at bird level and do not allow temperatures to go significantly above 21°);
  • Make sure they have enough food and fresh, clean water (do not use standing water as it may have been contaminated by wild birds);
  • Keep bird litter fresh – you can use damp-proof membranes for earth floors to help keep litter dry;
  • Provide enrichment items to prevent boredom, like scatter feeds, whole grain, litter with grit, pecking blocks, straw bales, cabbages, rope and footballs;
  • Check them more than once a day to make sure they’re healthy and have enough food, water and dry bedding;
  • Avoid sudden changes to their diet – if you need to change their diet, mix old and new food through a transition period;
  • Check for skin parasites like red mite – they can make birds irritable.

The department recommends providing aerial perches for birds, as they help prevent overcrowding, provide birds with more vertical space and more space to move away from pecking by other birds.

Signs of poor welfare and boredom

Defra has said that signs of poor welfare and boredom include injurious feather pecking, redirected foraging behaviour and loss of condition.

If a flock shows signs of feather pecking, the department suggests reducing the light, providing more enrichment items (scratch feeds, straw bales, cabbages, rope and footballs) and mashing their food to increase eating time.

It also recommends including more whole oats; wheat; corn; alfalfa; maize; barley; pea; silage; and carrots in their diets, as well as adding nutritional supplements to drinking water to keep the birds calm.