February 4, 2020 / 8:30 AM / 15 days ago

China coronavirus curbs leave Hubei poultry farmers with 'no way to get by'

BEIJING (Reuters) - Some poultry farmers in the province at the heart of China’s coronavirus outbreak are having to euthanize young birds amid new rules designed to contain the disease that have paralyzed live animal transport, feed supply and slaughterhouses.

FILE PHOTO: An employee collects eggs at a poultry farm on the outskirts of Shanghai, Apr. 16, 2013. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Some farmers have halved rations of depleted feed stocks for their chickens, while others disposed of the birds, according to an official at the Hubei Poultry Association, which made an urgent appeal to the government last week to allow in feed supplies.

“So many young birds were safely disposed of,” said the official, who didn’t say how many animals had been killed or how. He declined to be identified because he is not allowed to talk to media.

The ban on the movement of live poultry, believed to be a potential disease risk, has stopped farmers in Hubei from getting chickens and eggs to market. Hubei is home to Wuhan city, where the coronavirus that has now killed 425 and infected more than 20,000 nationwide was first identified.

“Farmers have no way of getting by,” said one farmer who preferred to be identified only by her surname Chen and who produces about 7,000 eggs a day near Huanggang city. “I am using up my feed stocks and don’t know how I’m going to get my eggs out.”

Videos have circulated on Chinese social media this week appearing to show farmers in unspecified locations burying chicks, ducklings and adult ducks alive, as well as eggs. Reuters could not verify the veracity of the videos, nor when and where they were filmed.

China produced 22 million tonnes of poultry meat in 2019, up 12% on the year earlier amid a pork shortage caused by African swine fever.

Hubei slaughters about 500 million birds each year and is an important egg producer.

Provinces elsewhere have been impacted too, according to analysts, with villages and counties across China erecting blockades on roads in a bid to keep the coronavirus out.

Hatcheries that sell day-old chicks or ducklings to farmers to raise before being sent to slaughterhouses are especially hard hit. With severe restrictions on transport, farmers are unable or unwilling to buy new chicks to restock their farms, said Dong Xiaobo, China general manager for France’s Orvia, China’s second-biggest supplier of breeding ducks.

“Prices hit a bottom of 5 cents per duckling. Nobody knows what to do with their production,” he said.

Many slaughterhouses are also operating at reduced capacity because they cannot find sufficient labor, said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank.

Top poultry processor New Hope Liuhe Co Ltd (000876.SZ) said on Tuesday its operations had been impacted by the delayed return to work in its factories.

With a life-cycle of about 42 days, supplies of fast-growing meat chickens could plunge in about two months, said Pan, though the impact would likely be short-term unless coronavirus-related measures are extended.

Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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