The end is in sight, but only for some

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Hens in the snow

As a keeper of poultry (I have six birds!) I can't wait until tomorrow (1st March) when I can return them to the enclosed paddock where they normally spend their daytimes. We always lock them up at night (there are at least two foxes in adjoining fields), but for the past two months we've also had to keep them housed during the day as a precaution against Avian Flu. DEFRA have told all poultry keepers, whether commercial or "back-yard" (like us) to house their birds and prevent the possibility of contact with wild birds who may be carrying the disease.

I'm not a handyman, and building a decent cage to keep the birds in was beyond my limited D-I-Y capabilities, but we were generously lent a dis-used poultry coup by a local farmer, a couple of potato pallets and some chicken wire by a second farmer, and a Heath Robinson style chicken coup was duly erected in which the birds could be contained. They've been there for two months. Although we've moved the coup every week to avoid the ground getting too muddy underfoot they certainly look pretty fed up!

Of course I'm one of the lucky ones. We are a considerable distance from a water course and there's little risk of wildfowl finding their way into our garden and obviously we are not in a designated High Risk Area, or I wouldn't be able to let them out at all. We are taking extra precautions though, including disinfecting and doing what we can to deter wild birds. But I want to spare a thought, and offer a prayer, for those who are unable to let their birds out because they are still within High Risk Areas, and especially those who will no longer be able to sell eggs as free-range because their birds have been housed for more than twelve weeks after which, under European rules, they lose their free-range status.

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