Your Chickens - - Feature | Bird Flu -

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.

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