Keeping hens inside
Why were free range hens being kept inside?
Most free range hens within the UK, and across the EU, were being kept inside during the winter of 2016/2017 to keep them safe from bird flu. Although farmers prefer to see their free range hens enjoying the outside, they understood that it was more important to protect the welfare of hens by keeping them inside temporarily. Defra has announced that from 13 April that the higher risk areas in England have been removed.
Do hens mind being kept inside?
Free range hens are used to spending time inside their houses - all free range birds go inside at night anyway. They are free to roam around the house and have nesting boxes, perching areas and scratching areas. They have continuous access to feed and water.
When the issue first arose, in order to help the hens adapt to a new routine, farmers spent more time with the birds and made regular checks on their welfare. Farmers made it easier for hens to adapt by providing some additional activities, for example hanging items, providing straw bales and other toys such as footballs and plastic bottles for them to play with, to ensure that their welfare was not affected.
Did farmers' costs reduce when their free range hens were temporarily kept inside?
No, they still had the cost of the ranging area outside the hen house and needed to maintain this land to make sure it is ready and safe for when the hens are able go outside again. Farm workers still had to look after the birds while they were inside the house - many farmers actually spent more time with their birds and provided additional activities for them.