Free Ranging and Bird Flu
Free-ranging our chickens in Winter has been restricted for a number of years due to Bird Flu. For most of Europe, incidents have severely reduced this year and government housing orders have not been implemented …hoorah! In other parts of the world, like the US, cases are increasing and sadly, the risks are higher.
If you live somewhere where the risk of bird flu is low and there are NO housing orders in place, free-ranging is definitely an option!
There is no doubt that letting your chickens loose in Winter is messier than it is in warmer, drier weather. At this time of year, the grass stops growing and the ground is wetter making mud more likely.
However, there are huge welfare benefits for your birds to get out and about, foraging for delicious morsels. Not only does this provide useful additional food sources, but it also gives them the opportunity to stretch and exercise their muscles which helps them stay fit and warm.
Foraging is a core behaviour, they need to perform for large parts of every day. Denying them this leads to frustration, aggression and depression, it is vital for their wellbeing! Having said all that, it is perfectly normal for poultry to avoid free-ranging in snow and storms…and who can blame them?
Obviously, as a responsible keeper, you do need to make sure that your flock is always protected from predators. Our run provides 2 square metres of space and grants excellent protection, allowing your chickens to rise early and feed safely.
Many people believe they can let their birds ‘take their chances’ but it is highly likely that poultry that are insufficiently protected will be predated sooner or later.
Let’s talk “run”, baby!
It’s not always suitable to let our feathered friends gallivant around the garden. If you need or wish to keep your flock contained in a run, there is a lot you can do to make it more interesting for them.
- Have a suitable material on the floor of the run that can be scratched around. Hardwood chippings, straw and dry leaves are all excellent choices.
- Cover the roof to keep the floor run material and birds dry and more hygienic.
- Consider adding sheeting to the sides of the run, particularly if the wind and rain tends to come from a certain direction.
- Install an old tree branch, a ladder and/or a swing to maximise the space inside the run. They love to perch high up even during the day.
- Grow some sprouted grains in a seed tray and scatter on the floor for them to discover.
- Make some home-made treat feeders and add some fun bits like dried fruit, live mealworms or sunflower seeds.
- Hang fruit, vegetables or bunches of herbs from string for them to peck at.
- Chickens love novelty so if you normally feed their food dry, put some in a dish and add some warm water instead.
- Use a tonic in the water to keep them in a fine fettle, change it daily and bring drinkers in at night to make sure they don’t freeze.
- Change the bedding in the coop twice as often as normal. With the longer nights and the soggy conditions, it will get much damper and dirtier than it would in the Summer.