Unfortunately, as those who keep chickens in England will no doubt be aware, there have been some outbreaks of Avian flu in Warwickshire and Dorset. Those who keep chickens will remember last winter and spring, during which chickens had to be contained to prevent them from catching the strain of avian flu from wild birds. Free-ranging chickens can be in danger from mixing with wild birds, which is how the flu can pass into domestic and commercial groups of chickens.
A polytunnel can be the solution while birds must be contained. Unlike a small run, a polytunnel can give backyard chickens a little more space and freedom, while still providing protection from the outside world, and any wild birds that may be passing through. In summer, a polytunnel will be far too hot for chickens to remain comfortably inside, but during the winter, chickens will appreciate the slight increase in temperature and can be happily housed in such a structure.
Placing your chickens' coop inside a polytunnel could be the perfect way to keep them safe and comfortable until the threat has passed. What is more, the chickens will scratch up and fertilise the ground in preparation for sowing crops, if you wish, later in the year.
While your chickens are contained, it is important to keep them entertained. Hang items from the crop bars to fascinate them and keep them occupied, and be sure to provide enough water and plenty of varied food items. The stems from Brussels sprouts and other brassicas are very much enjoyed, as well as other treats that could come from the winter garden. Your chickens will also enjoy meal worms, which could be sustainably bred on site. If the weather is very cold, warm porridge made with oats and water will also be a much appreciated treat.
If there are warnings of avian flu in your area, it is important to follow all guidance and to make sure that you have all necessary sanitation procedures in place. This can be a pain, both for you and your hens. But the whole process will be much easier when you have a polytunnel to keep your flock safe and contained until the danger has well and truly passed. It is likely that we will see avian flu recurring over the following years, so having a polytunnel that could be used in this way could be a good move, both for those who keep chickens commercially, and those with a few pet hens in their gardens.