David Peckham! Chickens given footballs during bird flu lockdown

Farmer Phill Crawley has given his flock of chickens footballs to keep them entertained while they have to be kept indoors under national measures to reduce risk of transmission of bird flu. (Sunrise Poultry Farms Limited/ PA)

A farmer has given his chickens footballs to play with while they are stuck indoors during the bird flu lockdown.

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.

Farmer Phill Crawley said the footballs give the chickens something to scratch and forage at while they are inside. Credit: Sunrise Poultry Farms Limited/ PA

Mr Crawley said that bird flu had “reared its head before” around three years ago and that farms got through it.

Keeping the flock indoors “is what we have to deal with”, he added.

Mr Crawley said: “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.

Feathers may fly if one side goes a couple of goals behind... Credit: PA

“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.

Biosecurity measures to reduce the transmission of bird flu will remain in force in England, Scotland and Wales until further notice Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

“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.”

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.

He said there was enough indoor space for the flock as the birds go to bed inside the shed at night anyway.

The family-owned business, established in 1971 and free-range since 1997, has three production sites and sells eggs from small shops to major retailers.

Referring to lockdowns for humans earlier in the year, Mr Crawley said: “There was a caption on an egg box I got sent on Whatsapp.

“It said these eggs have been laid from chickens that have been allowed to roam freely.

“The caption below was ‘I never thought I’d be jealous of a chicken’.”