We’re finally getting some sense of order in the new house. The poultry run is fully set up and this time we’ve prepped ahead for the inevitable poultry lockdown that will come this Winter. During the Summer months we let the girls free range around the garden when we are home. The new garden is fairly well enclosed and as of yet there is little they can do damage to in the flower beds when scratching around.
We do however need them to be safe from foxes so when we head out they head into their run for the day. We’ve built in a lovely big dust bath for them as well as plenty of shade netting and of course their Omlet Pole Tree which they love. To make it bio-secure for the Winter we’ve also added in a roof covering (which doubles up in helping to keep the run dry) and base kick boards to stop the messy terrors kicking all the wood chips out over the lawn and path.
I know I’ve said it before, but it really is crucial to have a permanent run that can be fully covered to comply with and Avian Flu Housing Restrictions going forward. Year-on-year we are having more problems with Avian Flu and the last two Winters have had prolonged housing orders in place. Without a structure in place it makes it far more difficult to comply – sometimes you will get as little as 24 hours notice of housing orders – and risks your flock’s run not being set up in the best way for their welfare.
Minimum Poultry Run Sizes
Personally I like to give at least 2sqm per bird of run space when also allowing free-ranging when possible, but the more space the better. A good example is free range hens in the UK should be given daytime access to a minimum of 4sqm per hen. Obviously when under a housing order those rules don’t apply, but the more space you give your hens then better it is for them.
It is also crucial to give your flock plenty of “hentertainment” within your run. Enriching their environment reduces the risk of boredom behaviour – feather pecking, egg eating – as well as increasing egg production as happy healthy hens = more eggs.
Perching places, a dust bath, and some woodchip or other ground material to scratch about in is the bare minimum needed. Adding in areas to hang treats – we have Omlet Treat Caddies, but also regularly hang up bolted cabbages or other greens from their Pole Tree. A perch doesn’t have to be fancy and for many years we made do with branches strung across the run. CDs dangled from string can give the flock something to peck – although be careful as this can scare some hens such as our Little John so we had to remove them!
If left free ranging hens will make their own dust baths, but in permanent runs it can be harder for them depending on what the floor is covered with. A dust bath can be as simple as a bucket filled with a mix of soil and sand. We’ve dug in a 100ltr pot to give the girls a permanent dust bath and sited it where the run is completely covered to stop it getting soaked during our wet Welsh Winters.
Our run base, now the grass within has been demolished, is just wood chips. This works great for us as every 4 months we clear it all out, dig it into the compost heap, and it helps us with growing our own veg. Free fertiliser!
Other Avian Flu Prep
As well as the run being completely covered we now keep our feeders and drinkers permanently within the run. We used to place feeders and drinkers outside when the girls were free ranging, but this way there is less risk of wild birds getting to the food and water even when housing orders are not in place. Our feed and equipment box is also stocked up as well with Avisafe which is a DEFRA approved disinfectant which we use alongside our normal cleaning regime now.
We had quite a few cases of Avian Flu close to us last Winter and it certainly made me more concerned for keeping our girls safe. It may feel a nuisance to keep them housed – and I know they are really not so keep on it too – but it is certainly better than the alternative as I do love the little terrors. I even love them when they have just demolished another tomato plant when I turned my back, time to net those off this afternoon I think!