Avian Flu : The risk to local producers

Robert Paterson 

The outbreak of Avian flu at Brome Lake Ducks has been a tragedy for the local firm. You may not know this, but everyone who works with birds in a large area surrounding Knowlton is also affected. None more so than small chicken operations with 300 birds or less and the feed mills that supply them. In theory, you can apply for a permit to sell your product. The permit is only for a single transaction and is valid for seven days. This option works if you are a large producer selling 100,000 eggs to a wholesaler, but it is impractical if you sell a dozen eggs to a local family. Consequently, the small producer is effectively shut out. 

Bird flu is endemic and so lives permanently in the wild bird population. It is not a threat to human health. For large-scale bird operations, the vector for infection is people. Workers have to take extreme precautions before entering a barn. If you have four backyard chickens and you lose two to the flu, it’s sad but not the end of the world. But if you produce on a mass scale, and a worker fails to sterilize themselves sufficiently, it is a catastrophe. 

In this time of vulnerable supply chains and food inflation, the threat to local small farmers is a threat to food security. Let’s quantify this. A local feed mill normally sells 25,000 meat birds and 450 layers to small producers at this time of year. This sale of chicks then drives sales of six and a half tons of feed. All of this is in doubt now. For a 300 bird flock of layers that sells 20 dozen eggs a week at $7 a dozen, this is a $7,000 loss over the year. For 300 meat birds, this is an $8,000 loss. This year is looking bleak. 

Small local chicken producers are backup suppliers of protein. They are a food security reserve.