Bird flu: small producers are struggling to revive their business

the essential
While the crisis seems to have passed in Aveyron, small producers have been short of ducklings for a year. Incubators in the region are not providing enough.

Since last Christmas, Guillaume Barthélemy’s duck pens have been empty. This farmer from Martiel is still suffering from last year’s bird flu wave. However, the Aveyron department was not heavily affected, with two outbreaks detected. A total of 16,000 ducks were slaughtered on two farms.

But it is the entire production chain that is out of order on a national scale. The region’s hatcheries, from which producers obtain their ducklings, have borne the brunt of the crisis. The farmers of the department obtain supplies throughout the territory, especially in some of the most affected areas, the Lot or the Gers. For a year now, the incubators have been operating at a reduced pace and it is the large cooperatives that are supplied as a priority. Production has tended to be normal in recent weeks, but the consequences remain significant for small farms.

“It is difficult psychologically”

“I usually shoot about 140 ducks a week,” says Guillaume Barthélémy. “Suppliers tell me I may have ducklings again in the fall. It takes 4-5 months to feed them to maturity. The sale of foie gras would take place after the end of year celebrations. The deficit is too big. Investments also need to be stepped up. With the price of food going up, it takes a lot of effort.

“It’s a psychologically difficult situation”, continues the farmer, “I have two employees who left the company at the beginning of the year, we are still waiting for compensation”.

For now, the farmer has suspended his duck business. It focuses on its livestock production for direct sale. “It’s much more stable and works well. Since I have no ducklings, we are not immune to new restrictions early next year,” he adds. These were lifted on 26 April (see box). “I do outdoors and I can’t afford to leave these beasts cooped up. The fences get dirty too quickly and the welfare of the animals would not be respected”.

“We are investing to protect ourselves from future crises.”

Faced with this situation, some manufacturers have adapted. “We have seen better days”, reacts Florent Fabre, farmer in Clairvaux-d’Aveyron. “The last six months have been very complicated with small volumes and few duckling purchases. They have gone back two weeks, but we are developing a solution in parallel.”

To be less dependent on suppliers, the farmer invests in setting up his own incubator, with lots of breeding females and males. “It’s a complex and specialized new job,” adds the young man, who produces about 180 ducks a month. “It takes a lot of work. We’re still learning why it’s a delicate balance, but we tend towards self-sufficiency. In the end the cost is the same. But we are investing to protect ourselves from future crises.”

Benoît Donnadieu

Low level of risk

On April 26, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty (MASA) lowered the risk level of bird flu to a “moderate” stage throughout France. A measure taken following “the reduction in the number of cases of bird flu in neighboring countries and the end of upward migration”, indicates the Official Gazette. This does not apply to some risk areas, but Aveyron is not interested. The enhanced biosecurity measures, put in place on November 11, 2022, have thus been lifted in the department. Authorities are reminding producers and private individuals to be vigilant and to report any abnormalities to their vet.

The number

16,000 ducks were slaughtered in May 2022, in Aveyron, at the height of the bird flu crisis. Two households were affected, one in 16,000 people in Vézins-de-Lévézou and one in 2,000 people in Sénergues. Several farmers have received state compensation.

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