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Bird flu outbreak could spike poultry and egg price

Khaya Burwana, a small-scale egg farmer and the founder of Hatch of Oak Poultry Farming, said the disease affected his farm badly last year. Picture - Leon Lestrade. African News Agency/ANA.

Khaya Burwana, a small-scale egg farmer and the founder of Hatch of Oak Poultry Farming, said the disease affected his farm badly last year. Picture - Leon Lestrade. African News Agency/ANA.

Published Jun 26, 2022

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South African poultry farmers are still grappling with the high risk Avian influenza, with producers in the Western Cape having been the hardest hit.

The Western Cape reported 68 outbreaks, followed by Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, which had 39 and 18 outbreaks, respectively.

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The industry was forced to destroy 3.7 million hens, mainly in the eggs industry.

The SA Poultry Association (Sapa) said that since the first outbreak of the virus in April last year, there had been 145 reported cases in the country, with 13 new outbreaks reported in the first three months of this year.

“The egg industry in the Western Cape has suffered the greatest losses, with an estimated 30.6% of their layers having been affected by the H5N1 outbreak," the association said.

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According to Sapa’s monitoring report for January to March, in the Western Cape, close to 330 000 broilers chicken for meat production had to be thrown away, and close to 1.5 million birds that laid eggs.

The Department of Agriculture cautioned farmers to be on high alert as there was a heightened risk of the disease in winter. This was bad news for consumers as farmers might be forced to increase prices.

“The disease is likely to have a negative impact on production, which is basic economics that if the demand is more than supply, then it affects prices upwards.

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“The increase in a country that already has high inflation from other external factors would be disastrous for consumers and to food security as chicken is one of the low-cost protein sources,” said Daniel Johnson, spokesperson for the Western Cape Department of Agriculture.

Khaya Burwana, a small-scale egg farmer and the founder of Hatch of Oak Poultry Farming, said the disease badly affected his operations last year, and he had yet to recover.

“The layers did not produce as much and sometimes I had to slaughter them because they did not seem in good condition. Sometimes I would wake up to find five chickens had died.

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“Up to 80 of my chickens have died of the virus since the outbreak. The layer chickens produce one or even two eggs per day, but during this disease they do not eat as often as they should, and they do not drink water. The production becomes low and poor,” he said.

As of March 2022, the cases of the virus in the Western Cape were 68 out of a total of 145 countrywide. Picture - Leon Lestrade, African News Agency/ANA.

Ncumisa Mkabile, founder of the Dawana Fresh Produce, said she avoided growing broilers in winter because of the mortality risk, and the lack of funds for a fully fledged facility put her at a disadvantage.

“I only sell them in summer when it is hot. I cannot just say I would just close them indoors (in poor air conditions) because they would need ventilation. I sold the last batch of broilers in November,” she said.

She only sells the layers throughout the year as she believes that they are able to survive the cold of the winter.

She supplies customers in bulk with 10 chicken broilers for R700 and in winter she would sell the meaty bones when broilers are not on sale to strike the balance.

Co-founder of Chamomile Farming, Achmad Brinkhuis, said the virus did not affect their egg farm that employs 16 people.

He said they prepared for the virus through security measures and limited access to the facility.

“Nobody should go to the farm. All the workers who would go to the facility must shower first and when they are coming out of the farm, they wash again. It is our security measure,” he said.

They started selling 20 eggs when they started in farming in 2003. Today they are producing more than 35 000 eggs per day.

The Department of Agriculture said the precautionary measures against the virus included preventing domestic poultry from being in contact with wild birds. It was also important to isolate and dispose of infected birds as quickly as possible to prevent the spread.

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