Preventing bird flu

Free range chickens smallholding_53778

Poultry housing measures announced for Winter 2020/2021

Defra has announced that new housing rules will be in place in Great Britain from 14 December. Due to the rising cases of avian influenza in both captive and wild birds in the UK the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales have all agreed to bring in additional measures to protect birds.

On the 3 December, the new housing measures were announced. They will come into force on 14 December, meaning that from this date it will be a legal requirement for all bird keepers, no matter how many are in the flock, to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures with the aim to combat the spread of Avian Influenza.  These measures have built on increased biosecurity requirements that were brought in a through the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) in November.

A joint statement from the three Chief Veterinary Officers said:

“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from 14 December onwards you will be legally required to keep your birds indoors or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds. We have not taken this decision lightly, but it is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”

The housing order means that all poultry keepers must implement the following measures:

  • House all poultry and captive birds, where this is not possible ensure that all outdoor areas are fenced off with netting or other suitable material. It is best to cover the top of outdoor areas with a solid top. This will minimise any wild bird faeces entering the enclosure, materials such as tin sheeting, wood or tarpaulin are recommended. This will minimise direct and indirect contact with wild birds.
  • Reducing the movement of people and equipment visiting where poultry and captive birds are kept helps to minimise contamination from manure, litter, and other products. Implement effective vermin control as they also spread disease.
  • Regularly cleansing and disinfecting clothing, footwear, and equipment to minimise disease spread. Aim to dedicate one pair of footwear solely used for interactions with the birds, these should be only used for this purpose and not used to go for walks in. The use of overalls or separate clothing when tending to your flock can also help. These measures reduce the chance of infection being brought into the flock from external sources.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect housing and equipment such as feeders and drinkers regularly. Ensure that housing is secure with no gaps or water leaks that could provide a route for contamination into the housing.
  • Minimise both direct and indirect contact with wild birds. Make sure fed and water is not accessible by wild birds. If feeding wild birds from the area that you keep poultry in, make sure you are feeding them in a separate area as far away from the captive poultry.  

Do you know what measures you must take in the new prevention zone? Download our handy flowchart (pictured below left) to work out what you need to do now.

​The NFU's biosecurity infographic poster (pictured below right) is a useful tool to visually see biosecurity measures. Download, print and share copies with poultry keepers so they can keep their birds safe. 

NFU AI flow chart and housing order infographic poster_76415

When Avian Influenza housing orders have been implemented in previous years poultry keepers have used some creative housing measures to keep their poultry protected from the disease. These have included repurposing garden sheds or children’s play-houses, and even netting the area underneath a trampoline!

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Entertaining your birds

It is important to provide additional enrichments for your birds whilst housing measures are in place, there are many ways to keep them entertained:

  • Green vegetables or bunches of nettles can be hung from the roof of the runs for the birds to peck at, hung up old CD’s also prove great fun.
  • There are many toys you can buy that are designed for poultry such as balls that can be stuffed with treats such as frozen peas or you can make your own by stuffing marrows or pumpkins with food such as seeds.
  • It is natural for poultry to want to dust bathe, washing up bowls filled with sand can help them to do this. Placing other containers with shredded newspaper or woodchip can help entertain them as well.
  • Perching is another natural behaviour for hens, ensuring that there are enough materials for them to climb on and do this is an important consideration; sturdy thick branches or wooden frames can help achieve this.
  • Birds are naturally inquisitive so it's worth experimenting with different toys and enrichments to see what works for your flock, NFU national poultry board vice-chair Phill Crawley has given plastic footballs to his hens to play with which they seem to love!

phill crawley toys for housed birds_76146

How is bird flu spread?

Bird flu (Avian Influenza) is spread by direct contact between birds, and through contamination in the environment, for example in bird droppings. This means wild birds carrying the disease can infect domestic poultry, so the best way to reduce the risk of your poultry catching bird flu is to minimise the chance of them coming into contact with wild birds or their droppings by practising good biosecurity and safety measures.

The winter means a reduction in natural foods so wild birds will seek out poultry feed and water during the tough months, and migratory birds begin to arrive from the Continent.

To help prevent the spread of the disease it is important to review the biosecurity measures that are in place in the flock currently. This in turn will protect your own flock, other backyard farmers and support British poultry. Below are pointers of how to achieve high levels of biosecurity.

Winter action - increased biosecurity

It’s a good idea to review your biosecurity measures in the winter months and take action to:

  • Minimise movement in and out of your bird enclosure.
  • Clean footwear before and after visiting your birds.
  • Minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures.
  • Keep bird enclosures clean and tidy and regularly disinfect any hard surfaces.
  • Humanely control rats and mice.
  • Place birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas that wild birds cannot access, and remove any spilled feed.
  • Keep your birds separate from wildlife and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around the outdoor areas they access.
  • Ensure the areas where birds are kept are unattractive to wild birds. For example, by netting ponds and by removing wild bird food sources.
  • Make sure equipment, feed and bedding are stored undercover so they cannot be contaminated by wild birds.
  • Reduce any existing contamination by cleansing and disinfecting concrete areas, and fencing off wet or boggy areas.

Useful resources

Avian Influenza top tips card_76416​​

The NFU's Avian Influenza top tips card is also a useful, printable resource that explains the key biosecurity measures and who to contact should you suspect a case. Download it here.

How to spot avian influenza

There are 2 types of avian influenza – High Pathogenicity (HPAI) or Low Pathogenicity (LPAI). HPAI is the more serious type. It is often fatal in birds. The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:

  • swollen head
  • blue discolouration of neck and throat
  • loss of appetite
  • respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • diarrhoea
  • fewer eggs laid
  • increased mortality

Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species (for example, ducks and geese) may show minimal clinical signs.

Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious. It can cause mild breathing problems, but affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection. The severity of LPAI depends on the type of bird and whether it has any other illnesses. Anyone who keeps poultry must keep a close watch on them for any signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns. Avian Influenza is a notifiable disease meaning it is a legal requirement to report any suspicion of disease.

Online tool for poultry keepers

A new online ‘chicken dashboard’ is intended for use by poultry owners and small producers and their vets. It should serve as an invaluable resource for up-to-date information on disease and health issues in small and backyard flocks, from egg peritonitis and red mite to Marek’s disease. The dashboard can be accessed via

To receive the latest news and advice should there be a Bird Flu outbreak, poultry keepers can sign up to the APHA poultry register. The NFU recommends that anyone with poultry or captive birds, no matter how many are in the flock, should register for free by clicking here or via the helpline on 03000 200 301.

If you suspect Avian Influenza in your flock, please contact your vet immediately.

If a member of the public finds dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, 
they should not touch them and report them to the Defra helpline: 03459 33 55 77.

Last edited: 30 December 2020 at 12:02

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