Bird flu and the safety of hens


In recent years, there have been outbreaks of avian influenza in wild birds across Europe. As migratory birds, particularly water fowl, fly back to Europe from their summer breeding grounds in Asia, they can infect indigenous birds and poultry in other countries. This happened with particularly virulent strains in 2016/7 and again in 2020, resulting in a large number of birds dying in Europe.

The Government can issue an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone, which would mean that birds are housed for their own protection. In recent years, this has been done in 2017 and 2020 in the UK

Why would free range hens be kept inside?

It is up to the Chief Veterinary Officers in the UK to decide whether hens need to be housed. Before the most recent announcement in 2021, hens were previously housed in 2020, and before that in 2017 in the UK, when most free range hens across the entire EU were kept inside during the winter to keep them safe from bird flu.

Although farmers prefer to see their free range hens enjoying the outside, they understand that it is more important to protect the welfare of hens by keeping them inside temporarily. In the UK, as soon as it was safe to do so, the Government will allow the birds to go back outside.

Do hens mind being kept inside?

Free range hens are used to spending time inside their houses - all free range birds go inside at night anyway. They are free to roam around the house and have nesting boxes, perching areas and scratching areas. They have continuous access to feed and water.

If hens do need to be kept inside, farmers help the birds to adapt to a new routine, spending more time with them and making even more regular checks on their welfare. Farmers will make it easier for hens to adapt by providing some additional activities, for example hanging items, providing straw bales and other toys such as footballs and plastic bottles for them to play with, to ensure that their welfare is not affected.

For more information on bird flu visit