Gardeners who seek the Good Life by keeping chickens in gardens are responsible for shocking breaches of animal welfare standards, say experts.

Keeping hens in domestic gardens is popular

The Royal Veterinary College in London warned that amateur chicken-keepers risk spreading disease through a lack of knowledge.

It is estimated that 500,000 households now keep garden hens – which could pose a big health threat to the poultry industry.

Vets studied back garden flocks in greater London and discovered that three quarters of owners did not comply with regulations set out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) regarding feeding of kitchen waste.

It has been illegal to feed hens ‘catering waste’ in the UK since 2001 because some disease agents can survive in food, and further disease spread.

Feeding chickens with chicken meat and eggs, for example, carries the danger of spreading a virus that’s responsible for the contagious condition Newcastle Disease.

Forty per cent of flock owners said they would dispose of dead birds by burying them in gardens when, in fact, birds should be incinerated to prevent disease spread through groundwater contamination.

“Even though evidence from our study shows that flock-owners provide enriched living conditions for chickens, they ought to realise that their pets are a farmed species and are subject to regulations,” said Iveta Karabozhilova, one of the study’s authors.

“People need to expand their knowledge beyond diseases for which there has been much publicity, like salmonellosis and avian influenza, and be aware of the fact that some diseases must be reported.”

The investigation found that insufficient numbers of hen owners had birds vaccinated against disease, while some failed to limit access to wild birds and rodents.

With school children present in over a third of chicken-keeping households, concerns were raised about kids coming into contact with faeces.

Chicken muck may contain Campylobacter jejuni, a disease that can cause diarrhoea.

Gardeners had a “low level of awareness” of Marek’s Disease, Infectious Laryngotracheitis and infectious bronchitis, all of which have been diagnosed in garden flocks in the UK.