The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) has urged all bird keepers to remain vigilant and maintain high biosecurity standards after Defra announced an end to the avian influenza housing order.
Free range poultry have been kept indoors since 7 November 2022 to protect them from the virus which has affected 175 premises so far this season, and resulted in more than 1.3m egg-laying hens and pullets being culled.
Defra has confirmed the housing order for England and Wales will be lifted on Tuesday 18 April. There is no housing order in place in Scotland.
Robert Gooch, chief executive, BFREPA, said: “This has been the worst season for avian influenza in terms of UK cases, and free range egg producers will be relieved to see their hens outside again.
“While on the range, hens like to scratch, dust bathe and forage for additional food, displaying the natural behaviours that consumers associated with free range and organic egg production.
“However, it is vital that all poultry keepers – regardless of bird numbers – continue to treat the situation as high risk, taking all necessary precautions to limit the continued transmission of the virus now that hens are ranging again.
“This message is particularly important to small flock and backyard keepers who may not be aware that practising good biosecurity principles can help protect nearby farms.
“BFREPA will continue to work with the government and other industry stakeholders to explore options which may reduce the threat of avian influenza to commercial poultry.”