Bulstone Springs Organic Eggs have shared an update with us this week on the avian influenza restrictions.
Bulstone Springs Organic Eggs remain Free-range
Poultry farmers and keepers large and small across the country have been facing challenges due to a strain of avian flu (HPAI H5N1) found in some wild birds and poultry flocks. Over the last few years, seasonal lockdowns have been imposed each winter for increasingly extended periods of time. During the pandemic, dealing with poultry as well as human lockdowns was even more challenging!
Our organic free-range system at Bulstone Springs Farm is designed to prioritise highest welfare and natural health, where the birds are in small flocks with all-day access to a large outdoor range. Our birds spend most of their time outside in fresh air, foraging and expressing other natural behaviours. In addition to forage, the only inputs (all certified organic) our birds receive are layers pellets, wheat grain, kale/other greens from Browings & Comhar’s veg plot, and occasionally cider vinegar and live yoghurt to boost gut health and immune systems. We believe this holistic, natural approach is fundamental to the wellbeing of our birds, and the results show in the quality of their eggs and meat.
With the first avian flu lockdown we very quickly learnt that keeping our birds inside their houses for any extended period of time immediately compromised their welfare, health and behaviour. So we adopted the other approach recommended by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - for birds that cannot easily be housed, to net their outdoor enclosure in order to reduce contact between the poultry and wild birds.
This approach, to net outdoor enclosures or ranges, has not been reflected in the current media messaging, yet is being adopted by most smaller and organic free-range farms where the outdoors is fundamental to maintaining flock health and wellbeing. Whilst they take extra time and resource to implement, we have been using nets for the last few poultry lockdowns and are busy completing the net on our newest enclosure, to enable our chickens to continue ranging freely outdoors during this current extended lockdown. We therefore will continue to market our eggs as organic free-range.
The current media messaging is causing the misperception that barn or caged hens’ eggs are now the only option, and we feel terrible for all the free-range farms supplying supermarkets that are now forced to dramatically drop their prices, despite their hard work and costs remaining the same.
With the huge up-trend in industrial-scale farming and intensive indoor poultry units, we are also concerned that the greater risks and needs of those systems (where natural welfare and immunity is grossly compromised) will increasingly become the dominant narrative and driver for marketing campaigns and government regulation.
Compassion In World Farming published evidence in 2006 that large-scale indoor systems are in fact making the avian flu situation worse, creating conditions that can act as a disease pressure cooker. Yet proponents of the industrial poultry sector see further intensification of poultry farming and keeping all birds indoors as a solution to the avian flu problem by preventing contamination.
The lobbying of such rationales, coupled with a media campaign and extended lockdowns that undermine free-range systems, create a perfect storm for Defra to look at implementing regulations that could threaten the very existence of outdoor systems. We should be doing everything we can to keep farming at a sustainable scale and our birds ranging outdoors.
Enormous thanks to everyone for continuing to support farms like ours, so that we can continue farming using the methods we believe are the most beneficial for our livestock, the natural environment and healthy diets.
Compassion in World Farming report: https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/97335/intensive_poultry_production_and_avian_influenza.pdf