Coronavirus crooks stealing Brits’ chickens after lockdown egg shortage

Brits are being warned to guard their chickens after dozens were stolen amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Smallholding groups and hen charities say those who own birds should make sure they keep an eye on them after parts of Britain were hit by egg shortages.

There have already been reports of birds being taken from their coops in Leicester, Lincolnshire, parts of Yorkshire and Cardiff.

And other owners say they are now moving their hens closer to their houses, guarding them with dogs and employing patrols to make sure they are safe.

A spokeswoman for the British Egg Industry Council said they were dealing with "unprecedented demand" and urged people not to panic buy eggs as they are a staple, especially for families.

But it hasn't stopped many shelves being stripped bare of the product – and it seems some unscrupulous thieves are now pinching chickens to keep in their own gardens and supply them with eggs during the quarantine period.

Kaz McCarthy, Kent co-ordinator for the British Hen Welfare Trust, wrote on a hen-keeping page on Facebook : "Please be aware there are a large amount of backyard chicken thefts happening in the current climate.

"Please by all means share your pictures but make sure you have your privacy settings locked in so predators can't get to you."

On the same group, amateur hen-keeper Jordan Duckworth said: "Can't believe it's come to me having to padlock and chain my hens up!"

He said he'd seen reports of thefts across the country, adding: "Heard so many people on different groups saying they've had them stolen."

Meanwhile RSPCA officers in Scunthorpe, Lincs, warned people chickens were being pinched.

A statement on the group's Facebook page said: "STOLEN – unfortunately we have to let you know that a lady… has had five hens, a bantam, and several call ducks stolen from their enclosure.

"Some of these birds are elderly or non layers.

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"They may well be abandoned once whoever took them realises that they won't produce many/any eggs.

"These birds were pets and their family is very upset. Also if you have poultry yourself, make sure you are taking extra precautionary measures at this time to try and discourage anyone from taking them."

Sarah McRow, Chair of the Derbyshire Smallholders' Association, said members had reported attempted thefts and described the situation as "desperate."

She said: "Poultry theft, both chickens and ducks, seems to be becoming more of a problem with one member reporting that someone was trying to steal his sheep and chickens a couple of nights ago.

"Those who are worried are moving their animals closer to the house so they can keep an eye on them.

"I would suggest if you have poultry, putting them away at night, installing extra lighting and keeping them hidden from the road, behind outbuildings as an example.

"Also if you are selling eggs outside your house consider not doing so for a while as this is a sure sign to someone wanting to steal chickens or ducks that you have them.

"Saying that, demand for eggs is incredibly high with one member reporting that he had people 'staking' out his egg box, waiting for it to be replenished."

Zoe Chinman, of the Small Farm Training Group, which provides subsidised training courses for those interested in smallholding, said the need for eggs had boomed in Britain as panic buying at supermarkets had left shelves bare.

She said: "We are seeing a real uplift in people wanting point of lay chickens between 16 and 18 weeks old.

"There are now waiting lists for these birds, which is unprecedented. You cannot buy a point of lay chicken at the moment for love nor money.

"People are wanting three or four for their back gardens due to egg shortages.

"There is also an upsurge in people buying day-old meat chickens and we can report a huge surge in our members selling eggs at the farm gate, i.e on their own premises.

"On a positive note people are really discovering shopping locally and supporting their local smallholders and buying their eggs."

Shona Scott, 38, keeps chickens in her garden in Maidstone, Kent. She said she and daughter Matilda, two, had been keeping an extra eye on their birds after hearing about the thefts.

"We're out with the dogs a lot and are going to see that the hens are alright every hour," she said.

A spokeswoman for the British Egg Industry Council said: "While the increased demand in the retail sector has been somewhat mitigated by a lower requirement from foodservice, the industry is dealing with a period of unprecedented demand.

"We are doing our utmost to get stock to shops as quickly as possible, so that they can replenish their shelves, but we would echo the Government's call for consumers to only buy what they need to ensure that there are enough eggs for everyone."

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