I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!
Looking forward at last!
March 31, 2017
The winter's been a testing time for most poultry keepers in the UK and no doubt we've all coped with it as best we can. It's been frustrating to have to keep the birds under cover and shut in their inner pens or huts and I've been worried about the state of their health because of the psychological effect of that. It was obvious that they were increasingly depressed as the winter wore on, no matter any attention they were given, or attempts to stave off boredom with greens to eat or logs to stand on or peck at for any bugs they might uncover. We covered the inner runs with agricultural plastic sheeting to minimise the possibility of wild bird interference of one kind or another, then had to deal with the fact that while they were effective ways of holding rainwater for use in the drinkers, that rainwater was so heavy that it pulled the framework of the pens in on themselves, which meant some difficult repairs, given that we couldn't, if we stuck to the Defra rules, let the birds out while these were carried out. Consequently, we spent a lot of time shoving rainwater off the sheeting into buckets and water butts. We just about managed until the storm the government called Doris wrecked three of the inner pens in what must have been, for the birds, shut inside their huts, a noisy and worrying night. Again, even temporary repairs took time and will have to be looked at again in the summer.
Fortunately, through it all, we only lost one hen, an elderly lady of nine or ten who probably just thought the avian equivalent of 'if this is life now, stuff it' and fell off her perch one night. I found her in the morning in the corner of the hut. It's easy to get paranoid, given the publicity Defra generated over what to do if a bird dies (which is not a criticism), but this was about as normal a hen death as you could wish to see. I thought we might lose the favourite old legbar male who did his stint with the females years ago and is now living out his days with the other spare males, but he's still with us, still asserting himself, even if the fact that he's blind in one eye after a long-ago fight with a brother sometimes leads him to walk around in circles. Anyway, now that we're no longer in a 'higher risk area', things are thankfully more relaxed. The birds are outside, laying again, their combs are red, they have the 'happy bird' shine about them once again and, when the sun is out, and they're busy investigating what might lay behind or beneath any clump of grass it would be easy to forget what we've all been through. (Or, rather, some of us - I know there were those who just ignored the whole thing, one of which, a poultry business not too far from us, is still inside the higher risk area but continues to operate business as usual. Nevertheless.)
Some writers have predicted that this year's winter lockdown will become a regular occurrence. I fear they are right. The job of science is to identify and classify for the general benefit of all, and that includes, obviously, strains of diseases that might present a threat to livestock or human. It therefore follows that each year, as diseases mutate to survive and thrive, we will be handed down restrictions that are perceived to be for the good of, in our case, the UK, European or even world poultry flock. The pressure to conform will be applied and to do as we're asked to do will become accepted as a duty. So, whatever we might think of the likelihood or not of our birds contracting illnesses from external sources, we'll just have to adapt. There will be businesses that will fold. There will be people who love their hens for their own sake who will just decide it's not worth the bother or worry. There will be those who are happy to break even each year who will have to accept that their hobby will cost them money - perhaps more each year - and therefore investment in new birds, equipment, expansion, will not be viable. Consequently, the market will shrink and so will the hobby.
But at least it's Spring, the hens are happy again, the incubators are on and it's a time for hope - at least for a few months.