Outdoor return for hens as bird flu fears fade – BBC News

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Image caption Scotland’s commercial-grade hens ought to have shut in-doors since December

Free range egg producers in Scotland are beginning the process of permitting their hens back outside.

The fowls ought to have shut indoors since high-risk regions were designated in parts of England in response to the recent chick flu outbreak.

Under the Scottish government’s governs, batches have been permitted to be kept outside as long as increased bio-security measures have been in place.

But north and south of the border, the industry decided to house the fowls to continue all producers on a level playing field.

It has resulted in free range egg-boxes being re-labelled to say the contents were generated from fowls kept in barns.

But producers like John Retson from Blairgowrie in Perthshire believe it was the right move.

‘Consumer demand’

He told: “They have had the disturb of being shut-in, but I think they are surviving and have coped very well.

“I think it’s been probably difficult and challenging as I thought it was going to be, but there is more than 50% of the UK’s eggs produced by free scope hens so we have to protect that.

“We have to protect the consumer’s demand for free scope and it was the only behavior forward.”

Image caption Boxes of free scope eggs were relabelled because of these limitations

Contracting bird flu, or avian flu, would have been the end for the 24,000 fowls housed in two barns on John’s Perthshire farm.

It’s an infectious virus carried by wild fowls from the continent, with a single case found out about Scotland.

The particular strain doing the rounds this year is not infectious to humans.

‘Prevention zone’

But when it reachings kept fowls there is a requirement to culled, which are able to destroying for the farmer.

A prevention zone remains in place across Scotland until the end of April with similar to limit bio-security for England and Wales.

Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Sheila Voas, told: “We are now looking at specific populations of wild fowls to assure what indication there is of illnes in them.

“We know that a lot of the migrating ocean poultry, which delivered the virus to us in the first place, have left. We also know that resident fowls are copulating at this degree so they are less mobile that they were.

“We’re doing a little bit of increased surveillance to looking and meet what’s in our resident population.”

A decision will be made in the next few weeks on whether to extend or lift the prevention zone.

But even after it is lifted, experts say it would be good rule for farmers to maintain a higher level of bio-security.

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