Several outlets around the country are reporting that chicken houses are euthanizing animals because of production slowdowns related to the coronavirus. Iredell poultry farmers are not having to do this.
“Meat and poultry processing facilities are designed and built to work with a specific size animal in mind to fill a need in the market whether that be towards grocery stores, schools, restaurants, or at a retail meat market,” said Laura Elmore, Iredell County’s Extension Office’s livestock agent. “Animals that have grown too large may not fit in some of the facilities’ equipment and will cause the facility to run the equipment at a slower pace.”
Elmore said meat and poultry processing is already slower because of staffing deficiencies and social distancing protocols related to COVID-19. Because meat and poultry is being processed slower, some animals are growing too big for the plant. Poultry farmers have had to “depopulate” their houses or euthanize animals.
Poultry farmers usually have a contract with an “integrator” or companies individual farmers contract with. Elmore said the integrator makes the decision about what whether poultry farmers need to depopulate. Luckily for Iredell farmers, that call hasn’t been made.
“Poultry farmers are adjusting management strategies to prepare for longer flock lengths,” Elmore said via email. “It depends on the current market conditions, processing plant staffing/safety protocols, and public safety if that is to remain the case in the future. It is certainly a concern among contract poultry growers.”
While extending the flock’s time in Iredell chicken houses will help avoid depopulation, it also delays the sale of the bird. Because of that, farmers are receiving payment slower.
Elmore said farmers would be compensated for animals raised on their farms even if they had to be euthanized, but farmers would always prefer to sell the live animal.
“Farmers are working to maintain animal health and welfare standards to ensure a safe and abundant supply of food for our citizens while also focusing on the safety and health of themselves and their families,” Elmore said.