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Backyard poultry

Cockerel and hen

Over the last few years backyard poultry keeping has expanded hugely in the UK, but nobody really knows how many such flocks there are in the UK. An interesting report on the growth of urban ownership of chickens in the USA is herePDF document. This was published in 2010 by the USDA, the US equivalent of our DEFRA.

Welfare and disease prevention

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College carried out a survey into backyard chicken keeping in Greater London which makes interesting reading regarding the welfare, biosecurity and disease control of backyard flocks. When you read it, try to compare how well your flock might have done in that survey!

In 2014, one of Chippy Vets own vets, Martin Whitehead, was commissioned by leading veterinary journal, the Journal of Small Animal Practice, to write a review article on backyard poultry for 'pet vets'. Here is a pdfPDF document of the article. You might want to look down Table 7 of that paper regarding some simple measures that can be taken to improve biosecurity and reduce the risk of disease in your own flock; select those measures that will fit into your own situation.

A key message of these papers is that disease prevention and biosecurity for backyard poultry is often relatively poor, but can be easy to improve.

There have been several outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza over the last few years. Advice for backyard poultry keepers about biosecurity and what to do in the event of an avian influenza outbreak is here.

Some legalities for poultry keepers

Many poultry owners do not realise that backyard poultry are, in law, food-producing animals. The government does not recognise poultry as 'pets', even when they are pets! This means there are certain regulations that must be obeyed to avoid breaking the law.

All keepers of laying birds should be familiar with DEFRA's Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Laying Hens. There are also Welfare Codes for ducks and turkeys.

If you have 50 or more poultry on your premises at any one time - even if a mixture of species and even if for just part of the year - you must by law be registered on the GB Poultry Register (tel: 0800 634 1112). If your flock is smaller than 50 birds, you can still register voluntarily.

It is illegal to feed any type of meat or meat products to poultry, and illegal to feed kitchen scraps to your birds - yes, really, even kitchen scraps! See this DEFRA leafletPDF document. These laws seem draconian but are designed to minimise the chance of serious disease outbreaks, e.g., avian influenza and Newcastle disease.

If there is an outbreak of either avian influenza or Newcastle disease within 10 km of your birds, you will be required to urgently carry out several actions, including keeping all of your birds away from contact with any wild birds (usually by housing your birds) for a minimum of three weeks and possibly longer.

If your birds are ill and are treated with veterinary medicines, you must keep records of those treatments in a medicines book. For the great majority of such medicines, any eggs laid during treatment and for a period afterwards will not be able to be eaten.

There are some surgical procedures that are prohibited. These include castrating or devoicing cockerels.

If any of your birds should die, it is illegal to bury or burn them at home or to dispose of them in the household rubbish. They must be disposed of by licensed operators such as veterinary practices and pet crematoria.