Dutch Farmers Say Moving Chickens Inside is Bad Idea

NETHERLANDS - Dutch farmer Jan Hol says his chickens, forced indoors by government efforts to protect them from bird flu, may peck each other to death from anxiety.

"I have to give my chickens a lot of extra attention," said Hol, 63, who farms 8,000 free-range hens in the central village of Beneden-Leeuwen. "I want to avoid the dangerous pecking."

The Netherlands last month ordered its 5.6 million free-range and organically raised hens to be kept inside as the government tries to stem the spread of a deadly strain of bird flu from countries including Russia and Kazakhstan.

The 650 million-euro ($790 million) Dutch chicken industry is the only one among the 25 European Union members to keep birds isolated. The last bird flu outbreak in the country, in 2003, led to the slaughter of 25 million fowl, about a third of the total. The lockup may prompt fighting among the chickens and a mortality rate as high as 30 percent, said Thea Fiks-van Niekerk of Wageningen University Research Centre.

"With confinement, the danger they'll start pecking each other is much higher," said Fiks-van Niekerk, part of the animal research group at the Dutch university, which is based in the city of Wageningen. "If this happens, it will easily turn into cannibalism, with high mortality," she said Aug. 30.

Dutch Minister of Agriculture Cees Veerman on Aug. 22 instituted the outdoors ban, which affects about 400 Dutch farms, because of concern migratory birds may bring the virus to the Netherlands. The country is home to 86 million chickens. Veerman didn't say how long the directive would stay in force.

Source: Bloomberg
calendar icon 5 September 2005
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