DEFRA has ordered all poultry to be housed to reduce the risk of avian influenza spreading.

From 14 December, all bird keepers – whether large or small – must keep them housed and continue to take strict measures to ensure good biosecurity.

See also: Avian influenza. How to spot it and ways to prevent it

The new housing order is a legal requirement and is in addition to the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone declared in November, which makes high biosecurity mandatory.

Eggs laid by hens housed because of an avian influenza outbreak can be marketed as free range for up to 16 weeks, under an EU-wide derogation.

See also: 4 key things to know about a poultry housing order

There have been several cases of avian influenza in commercial poultry as well as captive birds and wild bird findings across the British Isles.

The latest commercial cases were at two linked premises close to Northallerton in North Yorkshire in Avara Foods’ supply chain.

Highly pathogenic H5N8

There are few countries in continental Europe in which there have been no cases of avian influenza either in wild birds or on commercial farms.

The strain has predominantly been a highly pathogenic variant of H5N8 avian influenza.

The new housing requirement will also apply in Wales and Scotland.

Bird management

There are now 11 days for poultry keepers to prepare birds for being housed.

For commercial free-range poultry farmers, there are several additional management practices to take into account, including enhanced ventilation and litter management.

A joint statement from Great Britain’s three Chief Veterinary Officers said: “We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease and are now planning to introduce a legal requirement for all poultry and captive bird keepers to keep their birds housed or otherwise separate from wild birds.

Legal requirement

“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.”

‘Take measures seriously’

The NFU’s chief poultry advisor, Aimee Mahony, said: “Giving poultry keepers notice of these new measures will allow them to prepare and implement them to the best of their ability.

“These new measures mean that every poultry keeper, whether you have one hen in the garden or a large poultry business, must house their birds indoors and I would urge everyone with poultry to take these measures seriously.

“It’s crucial that everyone remains vigilant and reports any signs of disease in their birds at the earliest opportunity.”