Your Questions: Answered

Am I at risk of contracting avian influenza from my flock?

This depends on the strain of Avian Influenza; H5N1, the strain in the UK at the moment has been known to cross the species barrier into humans before, but very rarely and only in cases of very close contact or poor hygiene.

Can I let my chickens out of their coop during an outbreak?

Yes, they can be let out of their coop/housing, but if there is a full lockdown (Protection Zone), then they will need to be kept in a covered run 24/7. We are still under a Prevention Zone order so this is not yet in place, but please keep up to date with DEFRA announcements as this is likely to change to a Protection Zone order.

Can I still eat my chickens’ eggs during an outbreak of avian influenza?

Yes, you can. The official advice is as follows: “The Food Standards Agency has said that on the basis of the current scientific evidence, avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat”.

Do I need to be worried about Avian Flu?

Be aware of the potential risk of Avian Influenza during the winter months and keep an eye on the DEFRA website ( ).  Due to the recent outbreaks, poultry keepers should have good hygiene practices and remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flock.

You can sign up for free online alerts on any outbreaks of bird flu, and you should register your birds (if you have more than 50 birds, then registration is compulsory).

Do I need to keep my chickens warm in the winter?

There is no need to take action to keep your chickens warm in the winter, as unlike us, their body temperature is 105 degrees and they also wear a feather duvet jacket!  Ensure that your hens have adequate ventilation to avoid the build-up of ammonia and condensation, and that your run is weatherproof in winter to keep the ground dry.  Consider covering the run in winter to keep dry, and provide shade in the summer months. 

Do my chickens need extra nutritional support in the winter?

With the flock being confined to the run more during the darker days this will create a muckier run, and can challenge your chickens’ immune systems.

There is higher potential at this time for chickens to start bullying or pecking due to overcrowding, so make sure that they have as much room as possible and more than enough feeders and drinkers (1 per every 4 chickens).

It is also key to provide appropriate nutrition and supplementation to maintain optimum health, support the immune system and to help prevent stress over the winter months.

Add Nettex Vit Boost Tonic to your chicken’s water daily, this contains essential vitamins and minerals to help support health and vitality.

How can I reduce the risk that Avian Influenza poses to my flock?

Practice strict bio-security to avoid bringing the virus onto your property. These measures include disinfectant footbaths outside the run (of a DEFRA approved disinfectant such as Nettex Poultry Virocur Disinfectant), discouraging wild birds from your garden and chicken run (i.e. covering). If you keep waterfowl as well as chickens, then they must be housed apart as waterfowl are the main virus carriers. Also be careful to keep separate footwear for use outside your property.

How can I support my chickens’ immune systems during an Avian Influenza outbreak?

Stress can increase the risk of ill health in chickens. A key stress factor during an AI outbreak is prolonged confinement. Nettex Poultry’s Vit Boost Tonic in their water helps to support the immune system. Ensure that your chicken’s have plenty of room in their run (1 sqm per chicken where possible) as over-crowding can cause stress too, providing extra feeders and drinkers if you have more than 4 chickens is also a good idea.

How do I ensure my chickens get enough water in the winter?

When the temperature falls well below freezing, your chickens drinking water may freeze solid; this may split plastic drinkers, so it’s best to bring them in over-night when you shut the flock in, and pop them back out first thing in the morning. Remember to fill drinkers with fresh water daily.

How do I fox proof my chicken run?

It is impossible to totally fox-proof a run, but you can help deter foxes. Have a tall run made form weldmesh on wood or metal panels, with a skirt around the run which is kept in place with slabs. The Chicken Whisperer recommends that the whole run is on slabs with the litter on top of that – this prevents predators and vermin from digging in. Make sure that all the panels are secure, and inspect it regularly.

How do I keep my chickens cool in summer?

The answer to keeping chickens cool in summer months is simple really; ensure they have plenty of room, shade and water! Top tip: pop some frozen ice into the water drinkers to keep the water cool. It is important to remember that chickens have an extremely high body temperature of 105 degrees which is much higher than that of a human, so whatever feels warm to you will be hot to them.

How do I keep my chickens from pecking each other if they are confined?

The prime reason for bullying and feather pecking is lack of space, so ensure that there’s plenty of room in your run, (1 sqm per chicken where possible) and utilise the vertical space by fitting in some perches or branches higher up in the run. Provide extra feeders and drinkers, ideally at opposite ends of the run to prevent clustering around the resources. Provide varied enrichment in their run and change them regularly to maximise interest. Above all, be vigilant and watchful for any bullying, act quicky to segregate the bully, and use Nettex Anti Feather Pecking Spray to minimise the risk. Mites can also cause irritation and pecking, and the risk is far greater when your flock is confined to their run for long periods of time, be vigilant and tackle any mite issues with the Nettex Total Mite Kill range.

How do I keep my chickens healthy in the summer?

The key to ensuring your chickens remain happy and healthy this summer is to examine them regularly so that any changes in their condition are noticed and acted upon promptly.

The health check should include an assessment of each chicken’s weight, an examination of plumage for pecking, and for evidence of mites or lice, and a general eyes, nostrils, mouth, beak, vent and leg inspection. For more details on the health check watch this video
In addition to the health check, you should be aware of other threats to your chicken’s health during the summer and take action to minimise them. These threats include both internal and external parasites and stress

Internal parasites – worms
Advice on worming should be sought from a vet or RAMA. As a guide you should undertake worm egg counts regularly, and if needed worm your flock using a licensed wormer. Worming is stressful for your chickens and it is key to support healthy gut flora and the digestive system as well as treating the environment to avoid re-infestation.

External parasites – Pesky Pests
There are a number of Pesky Pests (Red Mites, Lice, Northern Fowl Mites and Scaly Leg Mites) which can live on your chickens or in their housing. Red Mites live in the housing. Poultry Lice and Northern Fowl Mites live on the chicken and are transmitted from wild birds. Scaly Leg Mites spend their entire life cycle on the chicken and spread by contact with other birds.
It is essential to treat the housing as well as the chicken themselves to help prevent any re-infestation.  See our Mites and Lice Q&A section for more details.

Chickens are very susceptible to stress, this may be triggered by worms, lice mites, heat or bullying. This stress has an adverse effect on the immune system and can cause chickens to lose condition. Stressed hens may appear depressed and may be off their food or drink.

Heat stress
Chickens are very susceptible to overheating as their body temperature is much higher than ours and they are unable to sweat. In hot weather, ensure the flock have access to shade and provide plenty of cool water. You can also pop a frozen bottle of water or ice blocks into their drinker to keep the water cool.

Overcrowding and bullying
Overcrowding and bullying can cause stress and injury. It is really important to make sure that your flock ha more than enough room in their run and plenty of feeders and drinkers to avoid bullying (1 per every 4 birds). If you have a bully, consider popping them in a broody cage (with food and water) inside the run for a couple of days to reset the pecking order. For information on establishing a pecking order. Click here to read more

New arrivals
Introducing new chickens to the flock can cause major stress, so needs to be undertaken slowly. Ensure that you check any new chickens to ensure they are free from lice, mites and worms and quarantine them initially near to your original flock and introduce gradually. Click here to find out more

How do I keep my housing weather proof for the winter?

Make sure that the coop and run are in good repair before the cold weather starts and check that the housing has adequate ventilation above head height to prevent a build-up of condensation inside. It is important to also ensure that the run is well attached and has a clear waterproof covering to protect chickens in the bad weather and prevent mud from forming in the litter.

Hens kept in damp and muddy conditions can quickly develop bacterial and fungal foot problems.  It’s really important to keep the housing and run dry and clean to prevent conditions such as salmonella, Bumblefoot, coccidiosis and other health issues.

How do I keep the coop and run clean in winter?

During the winter your chickens will be spending more time in their housing due to the lessening daylight hours, so now’s the time to ‘up the ante’ with your cleaning regime.

The coop should have a deep clean before winter – cleaning thoroughly and leaving to dry on a sunny day.

Use Nettex Virocur – a highly concentrated peroxygen based, broad spectrum DEFRA approved disinfectant powder, effective against diseases of poultry, to give the coop a deep clean for winter.

Regularly sprinkle Nettex Ground and Bedding Sanitising Powder on the litter in the run, and under the roosting bars in their coop in between cleaning out. All feeders and drinkers will need a good scrub with Nettex Poultry Sanitiser and Egg Wash, which will help eliminate bacteria build-up.

How do I prepare my coop and run for the winter?

In the winter months chickens will be spending more time in the run and coop than in the summer months.  Check all parts of the coop and the roof for anything which may need repairing and ensure repairs are made before the cold and wet weather hits. The Chicken Whisperer recommends using Onduline roofing, which may also help to deter Red Mites.

Check the security of the run and cover it with a clear waterproof membrane to give your chickens somewhere dry to shelter during bad weather.  It’s important to make sure that both housing and runs are weather and water proof with adequate ventilation to avoid the build-up of condensation and ammonia. Clear tarpaulins with bungee hooks are a cost effective and excellent way to achieve this.

Lastly, shredded Hemp Bedding is ideal as a bedding source as it is much more absorbent than other types of bedding which also helps with keeping mites at bay. Sprinkle Nettex Ground and Bedding Sanitising Powder on the ground and bedding, as this highly absorbent powder will help to keep your chicken’s environment clean and dry whilst helping to eliminate bad odours, worm eggs and bacteria, whilst extending the life of the bedding.  Remember – chickens allowed to paddle around in damp and mucky litter are at a higher risk of developing bacterial or fungal foot problems quickly.

How much room do my chickens need?

There are no specific regulations for backyard owners regarding the stocking density – the amount of space each chicken needs.  However as a guide most experts would recommend that you have at least, but probably more than 1 sq metre of space per bird.  When thinking about the number of chickens and the space required it is important to think about the winter and the amount of time they spend in the run and ensure there is ample space.  Clare Taylor (The Chicken Whisperer) recommends that a run of 3m x 3m is appropriate for approximately 4/5 chickens.

How much space should my chickens have during a ‘flockdown’?

Very simply, they need as much space as you can give them, and no less than 1sq m per bird where possible.

How often should I clean out my coop?

As a minimum you should clean your coop weekly, although you can spot-clean in between if necessary, especially around the feeders and drinkers.

How often should I clean the run?

Remove faeces daily, rake through their litter weekly and sprinkle with Ground and Bedding Sanitising Powder to keep bacteria and worm eggs at bay. Remove and replace the bedding in the coop completely when it starts to look or smell. This depends on the time of year and how long your flock spends in the run/coop. It may be necessary to spot-clean around the feeders and drinkers.

How should I clean the coop?

To effectively clean the coop, strip it all down and scrape off any dried faeces, scrub it clean with soapy water where possible and either dry in sunlight, or with old towels.

Spray the dried housing with Total Mite Kill RTU Spray, a powerful insecticide and disinfectant spray that contains permethrin which will clean housing whilst tackling any possible mite issues.

Take care to get into all the nooks and crannies by using Nettex Total Mite Kill Aerosol Spray in the hard-to-reach areas.

Next, powder the housing, bedding and any dustbaths with Nettex Total Hygiene Powder. This highly absorbent powder containing Diatomaceous Earth has a high affinity for moisture that promotes dryness and hygiene resulting in an inhabitable environment for mites.  Lastly re-assemble the housing.

How should I clean the run?

Remove faeces daily and rake through their litter weekly and sprinkle with Ground and Bedding Sanitising Powder to keep bacteria and worm eggs at bay. Remove and replace the bedding in the coop completely when it starts to look or smell. This will depend on the time of year and how long your flock spends in the run/coop. It may be necessary to spot-clean around the feeders and drinkers.

Is it safe to have chickens when I have dogs?

Chickens are sentient creatures and get stressed quite easily, so prefer a quiet and calm environment.  Moderate the behaviour of dogs and children around your chickens to ensure they don’t increase chickens’ stress levels.

What are the clinical signs or symptoms of avian influenza?

There is a full list on the DEFRA website, but it includes:  swollen head, closed eyes, respiratory distress (problems breathing), lethargy, sudden death, discolouration of face. Ducks and geese may show less or different symptoms, so if you are in any doubt, then you should consult a chicken-savvy vet.

What can I use as a boot dip or spray?

You should use a disinfectant which has been approved by DEFRA, and tested to kill off the Avian Influenza virus, such as Nettex Poultry Virocur. The DEFRA Approved list is shown here and can be filtered at the top to show those whch apply to AI.

What changes can I make to my chicken housing to reduce the risk of Avian Influenza?

You will need to make sure that your chickens have more than enough space in their run to be kept there 24/7 for some months, we advise where possible, 1 sqm per bird. The run should ideally have weldmesh no larger than 1/2″ aperture, and a cover which will keep out the rain and wild bird droppings. Pop a disinfectant/anti-viral footbath either outside or just inside your run and ensure that you dip your feet before entering and on exit.

What do I need to do to improve my biosecurity?

  1. The run should be covered to prevent wild bird droppings from being washed in.
  2. Restrict access to your birds.
  3. Boot dip on entry and exit (using a DEFRA Approved disinfectant, such as Nettex Poultry Virocur Disinfectant) and use footwear which is only used in your chicken run.
  4. Disinfect feeders and drinkers regularly.
  5. Use fresh tap water for your birds’ drinkers – not water from a water butt, which could contain wild bird faeces in the run-off.
  6. Be prepared for a full Protection Zone lockdown, and register on the DEFRA/APHA site to receive email updates from them.
  7. Keep a daily record of your birds health, diet, medications, and visitors.
  8. Prevent the accumulation of standing water and clean up any spilled feed that could attract wild birds and/or vermin.
  9. Humanely control rats and mice. Keep dogs, cats and other livestock out of poultry housing.

What is the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone or AIPZ?

This is a zone introduced by DEFRA/APHA as an interim step before a full lockdown (PROTECTION ZONE) and asks that chicken keepers put in place bio-security measures including footbaths outside the run (of a DEFRA approved disinfectant such as Nettex Poultry Virocur Disinfectant), restricting free ranging areas, and limiting access to your birds by people. DEFRA/APHA can still put in place a full Protection Zone (full lockdown) around outbreaks while the rest of the UK remains in the ‘lower’ prevention zone. The full details are on the DEFRA website.

What is the best bedding for my chicken coop?

Try not to use straw, hay or newspaper: Mites and lice love heat and dampness, so eliminating these from the housing helps to keep the parasites away. Straw and hay also both harbour mites in the stalk tubes and contain dust spores, while newspaper will ‘wick’ wetness and get damp. We all love the image of a hen sitting on a nest of straw, but in reality, you are best to stick to something dried such as one of the shredded hemp beddings.

What should I do if I am concerned my birds are unwell and might have avian influenza?

You should consult a chicken-savvy vet. There is also a DEFRA reporting helpline on 03459 33 55 78

What should I do if I find a dead wild bird?

You should report it on the DEFRA helpline 03459 33 55 78, and give them the location and description of the bird. Do not touch it, and avoid contaminating your own flock by changing or disinfecting your footwear, clothing and hands before returning to them.

What should I use to clean my chickens’ feeders and drinkers?

You should use a disinfectant which has been approved by DEFRA, for diseases of Poultry including Avian Influenza, such as Nettex Virocur. The DEFRA Approved list is shown here and can be filtered at the top to show those whch apply to AI.

What type of housing is best for my chickens?

Buying priorities for a coop are to choose good quality and the best that you can afford, which is easy to clean and maintain.  Wooden housing can harbour red mites, so a plastic coop that can be dismantled for cleaning will be helpful.  If you really prefer a wooden coop, then either get one that has a removable roof, or one that is large enough for you to stand up in, to enable easy and effective cleaning.

You will also need to consider a run for your chickens to get some fresh air, and this should be made from weldmesh, which is secure from predators and covered with a clear waterproof roof to keep them dry.