Friday, 16 December 2016

Lock Up Your Chickens! (warning: contains a rant!)

Tuesday 6th - Thursday 8th December 2016
The day started off foggy, very foggy. I don't know why, but I decided to take a few photos of the birds. They seemed happy outside.

Early evening on Tuesday I became aware that DEFRA had at some point in the day declared a 30 day Prevention Zone. "Keepers of poultry and other captive birds are now required to keep their birds indoors, or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds."

The reason for this is a series of incidences of bird flu on the continent. It is spread by wild birds.

I have always known that at some point we may have to shut the poultry up inside, but it is still a complete pain in the butt. I had a basic plan in my head, but it still needed a lot of work to put in place.

I wasn't particularly pleased with the way DEFRA handled it, but then they are basically a government department set up to support industrial farming and this is often at the expense of the smallholder (as well as totally at the expense of nature, but that's a different battle). Just about every major disease outbreak has been caused by industrial scale farming cutting corners. They moan at rules and regulations, yet it is their own actions which have made all this necessary as they constantly push the limits to make more money. Yet still these rich landowners seem always to have the ear of government.

DEFRA must surely have known this decision was being considered. A little more warning would have been good, even if it had been in the form of 'get ready just in case'. As it was, small-scale poultry keepers across the country suddenly found themselves having to hastily clear sheds, stables, polytunnels in order to house their birds and not be in breach of the order.
Obviously we all want to be responsible livestock keepers and nobody wants either to be responsible for an outbreak or to lose their birds to disease. But at the same time it is not so easy for us to suddenly keep our livestock confined.
I had to take the next day off work just to create the space and physically catch and move all the birds.

There was a quote from a large-scale farmer saying: 1. that these measures should have been put in place several weeks ago and: 2. that this order a couple of weeks ago would have been disastrous for the industry with birds being prepared for Christmas.
So it sounds very much as if the timing of the decision was not based solely on the risk of an outbreak, but on the potential inconvenience to the industry too.
I don't see DEFRA giving the same thought to small-scale producers. No, for us there was a sudden immediate need to confine our birds. So sudden, in fact, that DEFRA were 'too busy' to notify registered keepers of livestock by any means other than a press release, despite insisting on having contact details for all of us.

It was left to Social media to be the purveyor of the news.

Anyway, rant over. Most of the birds are now confined in the stables. It is a complete pain and the birds are not overenthusiastic about it either.

Right now it is better to be a sheep than a bird!

I have the Ixworth hens ensconced in one stable, all the other hens in the other stable and the turkeys in the third, though they stay up in the rafters and move between stables as the whim takes them. The Muscovy ducks I eventually managed to catch and they are now in with the chickens.
The male was easy to herd up to the stable but the girls simply took flight. They are very strong fliers, often going right out into next door's field. They headed off over the trees, over the road and veered out of view to the left. I went to the front gate but couldn't see them anywhere. I just hoped they would come back later. After a little searching I gave up and returned to the chicken pen. And there they were! They must have done a huge loop.
I let them be for the rest of the day as it would be impossible to catch them now. Instead, I caught them more unawares out of their house in the morning and carried them down to the stables. You have to grip Muscovies really tightly as their flight muscles are so strong. You also have to keep their sharp claws away from you and make sure they don't squirt in your direction from the back end.

The other ducks, more docile and less flighty, are in the polytunnel. They are quacking a lot more than usual but they will be ok in there as long as the Prevention Order doesn't go on after 5th January.

I said that most of the birds are now confined. For the wording of the order is not totally clear. It includes phrases such as "where practicable" and "do your best to..."
In particular with respect to geese and to gamebirds, it acknowledges the cruelty of keeping them indoors and the order is very contradictory in this respect. It says to take all possible measures to make sure they do not come into contact with wild birds and to make sure that food and drink are not accessible to wild birds.
So I have decided that the geese can go out in the day but be locked up and fed inside at night. They are the lucky ones.

One of the measures which becomes even more important than usual with the birds inside is rodent control. Fortunately I was already on top of this, as shown by this rather macabre find when I was reorganising the whole stables. That's a broom head for size comparison! It's dead.

So it's been a difficult few days. I know it is probably a sensible precaution, but I just feel that it hasn't been handled very well at all. I know we smallholders don't pack much economic punch, but it's not all about that. We are a hard-working and well-meaning bunch of people who know our minds and are fiercely independent. We strive for self-sufficiency, a virtue which has at points in the not so distant past been what has kept this country going through hard times. We own a little bit of this earth and we care for it. We don't overconsume and we probably give more to The Earth than we take. It would be nice if the authorities showed us a little bit more respect sometimes. It would certainly make it easier to show respect back.

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