A farmer has given his chickens footballs to play with while they are stuck indoors during the bird flu lockdown, writes Sam Russell of the Press Association.

Phill Crawley, co-owner of Leicestershire-based egg producer Sunrise Poultry Farms, said his older hens who are used to being outside enjoy pecking at the playthings.

The chief veterinary officers for England, Scotland and Wales agreed that bird keepers must keep their flocks indoors and follow biosecurity measures as of Monday, December 14.

The measures, to reduce the risk of transmission of bird flu, will remain in force until further notice.

Mr Crawley said that keeping the flock indoors “is what we have to deal with.”

“The birds are creatures of habit.

“The birds that are younger that haven’t been out much are relatively unaffected because they’ve not been used to going outside.

“The older birds that have been out more regularly and got used to it, they’re slightly different.

“So, like you and I may have a wristwatch, we can tell the time from our wristwatch.

“The birds, they don’t have wristwatches but they know time, so they get used to when the pop holes open up in the morning.

“So what we do inside the sheds is you give them added enrichments or toys to keep them entertained.

“You might use footballs for example. You might use pieces of blue rope, you might use pecking substrates.

“I bought some that look a bit like a millwheel, it’s like an oversize bird feeder block and it gives them something to peck at and the time they would have been outside scratching and foraging it gives them something to scratch and forage at on the inside.

“Respectfully we’re not allowed to let them out for all good reasons, for the best reasons that Government have said, so we give them things to enjoy themselves with inside the shed.”

Read more: New rules for bird keepers (even if you only keep a few chickens)

He went on: “The footballs are a funny one. They like a red football, but I bought a load of footballs and the green, the yellow and the blue ones – ‘I like you’. The red ones – ‘I like you a lot’.

“But the bit they like is the black hexagons on the outside of the red football. They’re not pecking at the red, they’re pecking at the black hexagons.

“It’s just quirky watching these little buggers.”

He said he has also tried road traffic cones, which the chickens will “peck at for a reflection as they like the reflective strip round the outside”.

“It’s just learning what they like, what interests them,” he said, likening it to a teacher managing a class of children indoors during wet play.