THE BUSINESS CONSEQUENCES
Andy Cawthray runs Chicken Street, a poultry
business in Shropshire.
He said: “Many of the commercial meat and egg suppliers are stating that they are glad the prevention order was brought in during the winter, but what about that other supply chain, the one that provides what must be close to a million people with their backyard flocks. When the order was announced I was in agreement; December tends to a quiet month, the nights are long and the days are short. What stock I overwinter tends to be my core breeding flocks, and whilst I have hugely reduced the number of birds I keep currently due to other commitments, they are still an integral part of my income stream as it is for many a small poultry business or productive smallholding.
“Keeping the birds under cover was not straightforward, but we got there after a couple of hard days’ grafting. I kept reminding myself that had this happening in summer months it would be a complete nightmare. My stock, like a lot of people I know, survives and thrives because they can get outdoors, and the housing tends to reflect that; it’s small and only really used for roosting and egg laying.
“January arrived and, unfortunately, the prospect of the prevention order being lifted was never likely to be a reality. Wild birds carrying H5N8 had been identified pretty much across the UK, and despite only small numbers being found, it was fair to say the flu had made the move over the ocean.
“By mid-January I would usually have an incubator or two running as I test the fertility of the eggs being laid. Eggs that are appearing because the year has turned, the daylight hours are getting longer and the sap is rising in the poultry pens so to speak. It can be a profitable time of year as the hatching eggs sales kick off and prices are buoyant for pure breeds. It also marks the start of people booking stock or purchasing day-old growers. Whatever the needs, the season starts and sales start boosting the winter-drained coffers.
“As it is, January was more indoor and undercover living for the birds. The result being limited egg production and a number of ambivalent cockerels; besides, given we have no outlook of when or how far the order would be lifted, I thought it could be folly to start hatching too heavily as it could be making a rod for one’s back. February might see an improvement in fertility, but ultimately the season is delayed and at danger of being a complete wipeout.
“Couple this with the fact that February marks the start of the auction season where folks can pick up hatching eggs or breeding stock and gatherings of this sort are banned now, and with the March auctions potentially at risk too, then it could be a very dry year in terms for this noncommercial, but no less the business-based aspect of poultry production. Sure, it could well drive prices up later in the year should the order be lifted soon and the desire to keeping poultry remains, in spite of the spectre of future flu outbreaks, but I know that many a small-scale breeder or poultry business could well stop trading, and the knock-on for the pure breed of poultry could be significant too, never mind those firms that supply the kit we need.”
ABOVE: The British Hen Welfare Trust is encouringing people to ‘hug a hen’ in these difficult times BELOW: A bar-headed goose. Thousands of these wild birds were killed by bird flu in China in 2005.