Bend It Like Peck-ham: Chickens play football in bird flu lockdown

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Media caption,
Footballs keep Leicestershire birds occupied in avian lockdown

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

Bird keepers across the country have been told to keep their flocks indoors since the start of this week to reduce transmission.

Phill Crawley, from Sunrise Poultry Farms in Sileby, Leicestershire, said toys kept his chickens entertained.

They also enjoyed playing with road traffic cones, he added.

The lockdown order, brought in by chief veterinary officers for England, Scotland and Wales, will remain in place until further notice.

Mr Crawley said although older birds who have been outside "more regularly" will be less used to staying inside, the younger ones are "relatively unaffected".

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

"The footballs are a funny one. The bit they like is the black hexagons on the outside of the red football," he said.

"They're not pecking at the red, they're pecking at the black hexagons."

Image source, Sunrise Poultry Farms/PA
Image caption,
Fowl throws are a regular feature during games

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.

Catherine Jadav, research manager at Compassion in World Farming, said chickens are naturally inquisitive animals that would spend much of their time outdoors pecking, scratching and exploring the ground for food.

She said their curiosity in the footballs mirrored this "strong internal drive" but the interest would probably drop off over time.

Sunrise Poultry Farms, which was set up in 1971 and has kept free-range chickens since 1997, has three production sites.

Mr Crawley said the firm had survived the last bird flu outbreak a few years ago and keeping the birds inside was "what we have to deal with".

The government said the risk to humans from bird flu was "very low" and should "not affect the consumption of poultry products".

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