I recommend planning now to protect your birds, writes Janice Houghton-Wallace.

Once the clocks change, anyone with livestock knows that you fight against time looking after them as daylight gets shorter. It is therefore important to make those few bright hours in the morning count as much as possible. Open up the chicken house once it is safe enough in the early morning to do so because light will fade by mid afternoon and poultry start to roost.

With the onset of migratory wildfowl from the continent, consider how your birds could be continually housed if the necessity arose again through avian disease precautions being introduced. Think about what you can keep over the winter, for looking after too many with little permanent inside accommodation could be a logistical nightmare. It could also cause welfare problems through overcrowding and bullying.

Having large enough housing for your flock, or making sure that only a small number of birds occupy the space, ensures that their husbandry is well considered. Even without the worry of lawful confinement, if the house is large enough to enable the birds to be shut in during extremely wet or windy days, this is an option to make life easier for you looking after them as well as being more comfortable for the birds themselves.

Feeding poultry at this time of the year is very important because if the birds have not had the afternoon feed before their instinct is telling them to roost, then they could be about to experience a long period without very much sustenance inside them. So give the wheat feed around lunchtime or double feed in the morning if necessary.

With prolonged darkness it is essential that poultry are safe from predators. Making sure houses and fencing are in good order and robust is essential to protect birds from foxes and other natural predators, but also be aware of the human kind.

Just like other forms of livestock and pets, any poultry breed that becomes fashionable or growing turkeys in the lead up to Christmas can be at risk of being stolen. Anyone with poultry should therefore take time to look around their premises and see how they can be made to appear less desirable to thieves.

Leicestershire Police have provided guidance on what should be considered if you are a poultry keeper:

• Try to keep your poultry where they are not visible from the road or near any public rights of way.

• Security lighting with passive infrared sensors is a good deterrent and a way to let you know if someone is on your property. Passive infrared security lighting is also available with a built in camera which will record any movement.

• Have a good quality padlock and/or alarm on the poultry house or houses and also any shed where you keep feed and bedding. As well as your birds, the feed, bedding and metal containers are all prime targets for thieves as these can soon be sold on.

• Electric fencing can deter potential offenders as well as being a deterrent for foxes and other predators. Remember to put a visible sign up warning that an electric fence is in operation and take precautions to protect the energizer – as these are also stolen!

• During daylight hours, geese and Guinea fowl can act as a natural alarm system as these are very vocal if someone enters the premises.

• A large dog that reacts to anyone entering the premises during daylight by barking loudly is very off putting to would-be thieves. Even at night if shut in, a good dog can sense anything strange and react.

• Take photos of any particular birds that may be rare, including distinguishing marks and any expensive equipment you may have.

• There are a number of ways to mark your poultry which will act as a deterrent, help identify stolen birds and provide ownership. This can be done by wing tagging (similar to ear tagging in sheep), permanent tattooing, marking plumage with vegetable dye (obviously not possible for birds about to be exhibited), closed rings on birds legs, wing stamping or even microchipping, if very special.

Police Scotland say that checking your birds regularly and making sure that anyone spying on the premises can see movement on a regular basis helps to prevent theft. When on social media be careful not to advertise too widely pictures of your premises or the birds and animals you keep. Thieves monitor social media sites and research your movements and location.

If you are away, the poultry house or farmyard can be monitored by a camera that can be linked to a mobile phone. Apple says it is perfectly possible to install a WiFi camera to view a chicken house which can be linked in via GPS to an iPhone or laptop iPad. The camera bought must be compatible with IOS software, which can then be downloaded for use. With differing signal levels, any barriers such as large buildings or trees must be taken into account when progressing with this idea.

Police Scotland and Police in English and Welsh counties all encourage poultry keepers to contact the police and arrange for a crime prevention officer to visit and give advice, which is free. Also, to contact the police if they see any suspicious activity, vehicle or person near your property, even though nothing may have happened or be missing at the time. It could be that a recce has been taking place for future access and theft. Always report a theft, no matter how small, as it may be linked to a pattern of crime or similar incidents in the area. It is not possible for the police to help if they do not know about it.

Finally, join a local Neighbourhood Watch or Rural Watch scheme to keep informed of any incidents in the area and display signs that show you are involved in a watch scheme.


This article was written exclusively for Smallholder magazine. For more expertise in poultry from Janice Houghton-Wallace, subscribe to the monthly magazine by calling 01778 392011 or emailing subscriptions@warnersgroup.co.uk. It is also available from newsagents.