Avian Influenza

It is a funny thought perhaps but, a large umbrella for your free-ranging chooks just won't be the answer to keeping them safe from Bird Flu. Here we offer guidance on some serious steps every chicken keeper should take if the UK is in imminent danger of Avian Influenza arriving.

From the DEFRA website - This information tells you what you must do if you keep birds in England and an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone is in place.

If you keep poultry you must, by law, follow specific disease prevention measures. These apply to all keepers of birds, regardless of flock size, or if your birds are pets. These are designed to reduce the risk of infection from wild birds. If you keep poultry of any kind then you can continue to allow your birds outdoors into fenced areas, but only if these areas meet certain conditions including:

  • You have made the areas unattractive to wild birds, for example by netting ponds, and by removing wild bird food sources.
  • You have taken action to reduce any existing contamination, such as cleaning and disinfecting concrete areas, and fencing off wet or boggy areas.
  • You have assessed the risk of your birds coming into contact with wild birds or contamination from them.

If you keep more than 500 birds, you must take some extra biosecurity measures. They include identifying clearly defined areas where access by non-essential people and vehicles is restricted, and cleaning and disinfecting vehicles, equipment and footwear.


It was in Dec 2016, and again in January 2018, that DEFRA (UK Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) announced an Avian Influenza protection zone, triggered by an outbreak of H5N8 Bird Flu, most likely brought in by the winter migration of wild birds to the UK. A precautionary measure of enclosing flocks was put in place to keep domestic poultry separate from wild birds in a bid to contain the outbreaks. 

Many poultry keepers were simply not prepared for the effects of DEFRA's Avian Flu restrictions which saw birds housed indoors for a period of over four months! Birds became stressed and the free-range egg status was compromised. For some, there was the heartbreaking and devastating culling of flocks.

It is generally agreed that the measures were successful in their aims and, thankfully, we have not had a confirmed new case in the UK for a while but, let's not be complacent in the coming winter; let's make sure we take precautions now. Be prepared!

As you may know, the Bird Flu (Avian Influenza) disease can spread from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and feces. The main risk of infection is likely to come from wild birds using the same ground and feeders as your poultry. We hope this simple FAQ checklist will answer your most common Bird flu concerns. All bio-security products mentioned can be found in our Disinfectants Section.

What does DEFRA mean by 'keep birds inside'?

Flyte Aviary Chicken Coop

DEFRA may advise Poultry Keepers to keep their birds 'inside', but what exactly does this mean.

The advice to keep birds 'inside' can mean just keeping your birds confined to their run but the run should have a solid, covered roof. If you don't currently have a Run or Pen, you could construct a temporary one from old pallets and small mesh wire, perhaps for the short term. 

The main concern is to ensure that wild birds cannot access the run, so any holes in the fence or wire need to be small (e.g. half-inch by one-inch mesh will keep wild birds out).

For ideas about the ideal chicken run, take a look at Poultry Protection Pens or Free Standing Runs, we have many sizes and styles to suit a range of budgets and house styles. There are options to fix to a Flyte so Fancy house or one of your own.

If the roof of your Pen is open to the elements then passing birds can land on it, or fly over, and any excretions will land inside the run. This has to be prevented in an Avian Prevention Zone. The best way to prevent droppings from wild birds, that might have been exposed to avian flu, would be to cover your existing run to create a 'roof'.

The simplest and most cost-effective solution is to use a tarpaulin readily available from many DIY stores. Our PVC Rainshades are ideal for this and available in 3 sizes. A more permanent solution could be to cover the roof with polycarbonate sheets, or other lightweight roofing materials, that are also available from builder's merchants.

A little tip here though is to try and make sure that by adding a roof covering you are not making the run too dark for the birds. They do need as many good daylight hours as possible to be healthy and produce good eggs.

What if I have to confine my birds to their house?

Hens inside Granary Hen House

If DEFRA announces a restriction, it applies to all poultry and captive birds. For some of us, it just not practical to create an outdoor covered run area. In this instance, birds will need to be confined to their hen house.

More frequent cleaning will help to keep the birds healthy and the addition of products such as BioDri Sanitising Powder will help alleviate the build-up of moisture created by condensation of having birds in a confined space.

Using HempBed-E Bedding, which is super absorbent and contains eucalyptus, will also help reduce humidity and keep the air fresher.

In this case, you might also have to consider adding a light to the house too, set to come on during certain hours, so that you can replicate daylight.

Another consideration is that bored, tightly confined, birds can begin to get restless and bully each other leading to feather pecking or injury.

To help prevent this we would recommend placing items inside to act as a distraction, such as the Boredom Buster® or perhaps a few items to peck at such as hanging up a cabbage. 

Feeders and Drinkers will need to be kept inside (or undercover), away from contamination. Hanging feeders may be an easy option helping to keep the bedding dry and minimise the amount of spilled food in such a confined area.

Which Disinfectant can I use against Bird 'flu?

Disinfectant Footbath

There are many poultry disinfectants on the market but not all are specifically approved by DEFRA for use against Avian Influenza.

The most popular one is Virkon S Disinfectant which comes in sizes from 50g sachets up to 5kg tubs. Also approved, at the right dilution rate, is Bi-OO-Cyst and Bio-VX Powder by Biolink. These can be used for cleaning the house, feeders and drinkers (rinse well with fresh water) and for creating a simple foot bath.

A disinfectant footbath can be anything from a washing-up bowl to a tub trug, filled with a disinfectant solution, that can be walked through by all of the family on entering and exiting the poultry area. Try our Recycled Tyre Troughs as a cheap but robust footbath.

Virkon S Tablets or powder is probably the most cost-effective product as once made up, it can be reused.

Protective and disposable gloves and masks are a practical consideration when handling and cleaning your birds to avoid spreading any potential contamination.

Summary and Further Reading

No free-ranging | Prevent access by wild birds and their droppings | Cover your runs | Bring feeders and drinkers inside the henhouse or run | More frequent & thorough cleaning | Disinfectant Footbath before entering | Boredom Busters to prevent pecking | No movement of livestock | Be vigilant!

Symptoms of Avian Flu and further guidance can be found on the DEFRA website. If you have any serious concerns about the health of your poultry, please seek prompt advice from your vet.

For poultry supplies delivered to your door. We do our best to stock everything you need to keep your flock happy and healthy. If you need guidance about which products to choose from, please just call us on 01300 345229.

Bird Flu Hints & Tips is ©Flyte so Fancy Ltd 2018. Author: Anne Weymouth. Reproduction of part or all of this text is only possible with the express permission of Flyte so Fancy Ltd.