The housing order announced on 24 November stipulates that all poultry must be housed indoors from 29 November to reduce spread of avian influenza. This will create a significant and sudden change of environment for free range layers.
Head of poultry at Wynnstay, Jim Turner, has highlighted key steps which can be taken to help maintain flock health and egg production as the housing order comes into force.
“If permitted by your egg contract, open the pop holes an hour later each day as the housing order approaches, to gradually break the birds’ routine,” said Turner. “If they gather at the pop holes, walk through the hens to encourage them to spread more evenly around the shed.”
He recommended checking the ventilation system as soon as possible, as it is vital that it works effectively once the pop holes are closed.
“If in any doubt, contact the manufacturer and double check the settings you’ll need once the birds are housed full-time.
“Also, be aware that the house will warm slightly without the cool air entering through pop-holes,” he said. “Be ready to adjust the settings as this happens, to keep a constant ambient temperature suited to the flock. “The potential warming of the shed can impact feed and water consumption. Turner suggested assessing the diet to ensure nutrition will maintain egg size and production in warmer conditions.
“Supplements can help reduce stress and support immune systems. Giving hens a boost of amino acids, electrolytes and vitamins can help prevent disease challenges from impacting hen health and flock performance.
“Adjusting light levels, availability of enrichment and grit to encourage scratching can all contribute to keeping birds calm and expressing natural behaviours while housed, which in turn helps maintain production,” he said.
Finally, he advises ensuring very high levels of biosecurity throughout the housing order period. “Take steps to clean everything, disinfect, and stop all non-essential visits to the farm.”