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Free as a bird: Chickens allowed outside after four months

Farmed birds were allowed outside again after months of being kept indoors Photo: ITV Border

The region's poultry farmers can allow their birds to roam freely again.

The Department for Food and Rural Affairs had ordered all farmed birds to stay indoors after a number of outbreaks of bird flu across Europe.

But today Defra lifted those restrictions.

The chickens were a little shy of coming outside Credit: ITV Border

But when the gates opened at the Lakes Free Range Egg Company's farm in Stainton their 3,000 chickens didn't all rush at once.

After four months inside they were a little shy, until the more adventurous ladies re-discovered life as a free range hen.

One shed we let out first and they just looked out of the pop-hole and thought hmmm haven't a clue what's out there, they'd almost forgotten. But then these guys were totally different: whoosh they were off.

– David Brass, Lakes Free Range Egg Company CEO
'Let there be sunlight!' Credit: ITV Border

The company says adding a label saying their free range hens were kept in barns added a cost to production, but sales didn't fall.

As free as a bird Credit: ITV Border

But it's still the end of a tough time for their 65 farms.

The threat of avian flu in wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales meant farm and domestic birds had to be kept inside.

They came in on 6th December the first couple of weeks were really challenging because the birds were desperate to get back out they're used to going out so a lot of time and effort just walking about in the sheds, calming them down, giving them lots of enrichment, everything from bales of straw and hay, even hanging CDs up, bits of rope, bits of string so they could peck with those.

So that was quite challenging, then they kind of settled down and at the same time lots of biosecurity in place: the biggest single risk, most of the cases that there have been in the UK have been people brining it onto the site to the chickens so making sure that people wash their feet, change their wellies, change their boots, change their overalls, which is costing an awful lot of money - thousands of pounds a week that costs us to keep that in place.

– David Brass, Lakes Free Range Egg Company CEO
Conditions still apply for farmed animals Credit: ITV Border

But they're not out of the woods yet. There are still conditions in place to try to prevent the spread of the disease.

It's even more important in Cumbria as even though there were never any confirmed cases in farms here, there were some in nearby Northumberland and Lancashire, which meant Cumbria was a high-risk area.

Avian influenza has been brought by migratory water foul and they've gone back on their summer holidays to Siberia so the risk is reducing - they started going in January, and gradually about 70% of them have gone now and most of them are on their way back so the risk of catching avian influenza is reducing so because of that DEFRA's made the decision that it's to a significant level now that it's safe to let birds out under controlled conditions: like so the biosecurity's still there, we have to make sure that any water pools are drained off the range.

– David Brass, CEO of the Lakes Free Range Egg Company

So farmers are hoping the worst is now over and their chickens are free to roam.