Avian influenza forces South Africa to cull 2.5 million broilers

Chicken meat supply still appears stable
calendar icon 17 October 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

South Africa has reported outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in seven of the nine provinces in the country, according to a recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report.

The Western Cape and Gauteng province are the hardest hit. The current strains appear highly virulent, and industry sources indicated that there are currently daily reports of new infections. 

According to the last official report of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, 2.68 million chickens were lost as a result of the recent H5 and H5 HPAI outbreak. However, the South African Poultry Association (SAPA), has offered a much higher estimate, stating that 7.5 million birds have been culled since the outbreak of the HPAI which began in April 2023. This includes 2.5 million birds bred for their meat and 5 million birds for the egg laying hens and 280,000 in breeding flocks.

While the supply of chicken meat still appears stable through the lens of retail availability, slaughter is already slowing slightly, and current supply levels will be difficult to maintain once current supplies and cold stores are consumed. Most analysts indicate that the retail impact will begin in November. However, the severity and length of impact will be determined by the pace of outbreaks going forward.

The outbreak is expected to impact the supply of table eggs for a prolonged period as approximately one quarter of the country’s laying hens had been culled or died from disease. While the industry is furiously seeking day old chicks and fertilized eggs to rebuild the laying stock, production levels will likely remain suppressed for a minimum of half a year as hens take approximately 21 weeks to achieve point of lay.

Approximately 2.5 million broilers (chickens bred for their meat) have been culled to date. At present, the culled boilers represent less than 15 percent of a standard week’s slaughter count. Annually, more than 1 billion chickens are produced in South Africa.

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