RSPCA Assured has issued advice to farmers to encourage their birds outside on the range and help minimise any potential stress for the birds.
From 18 April, the current housing order will be lifted in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland, as the risk of bird flu, whilst still in circulation, has now reduced.
RSPCA poultry expert, Kate Norman, said: “Providing birds with outdoor access gives them the freedom to express a greater range of natural behaviours.
“However, given birds have been kept indoors for the last five months and therefore haven’t been used to going outside, they may initially express signs of fear and stress when the popholes are first opened.
“This could, for example, lead to issues such as feather pecking or the birds may not choose to go outside at all.
“Our advice is to ensure that measures are put in place on the range to help minimise any fear and stress and to encourage the birds outside.”
Dr Norman said farmers could do this in several ways, for example, by providing:
- Shelters and structures around popholes to create a ‘corridor’ acting as a transition to the outside (for example, trailers or fences covered in windbreak netting or brashings from trees)
- Areas to dustbathe
- Plenty of natural cover and enrichment close to the popholes, which will encourage the birds outside (for example, covered areas with suitable dustbathing material and perching structures)
- Creating windbreaks for any exposed areas
- Ensure any wet areas of land or standing water are fenced off
- Creating key resource areas outside the popholes, such as dry dustbathing locations and perching structures
- Providing a good surface outside the popholes to prevent poaching and maintain clean dry litter inside
- Still practising excellent litter management and enrichment inside