Poultry In Pain

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Almost half of the poultry farms in Lassipora are shut as others have reduced their rearing capacity. The sector requires quick attention as this has a huge bearing on the local demand and idle investment, reports Muhammad Younis

Inside view of poultry farm.

Over a vast swathe of land, nearly 50 poultry farms are established in State Industrial Development Corporation (SIDCO)’s industrial estate at Lassipora (Pulwama). These units cater to Kashmir’s food requirements, the chicken, which, although, is comparatively very high. Unfortunately, however, not all these farms are operational.

“The number of the inoperative units was more than half few months ago, but some of them have resumed the work now,” said Iqbal Ahmad Bhat, a poultry farmer. “Still more than 20 units are out of work.” The halt in rearing varies between four months to around two years.

Bhat’s Iqbal Poultry Farm is operational but its capacity is reduced. Against a hatch of 4500 birds, Bhat is rearing only 3000 meat chicks.

In 2011, Bhat started his farm with a capacity of 1500 birds. The demand was so huge that he upgraded his farm’s capacity. By 2016, it was three times bigger. But then, he started utilising only part of the capacity.

“The market for the poultry has degraded which has contributed to the fall in demand, decrease in capacity utilisation and the outright closure of the units,” Bhat said. “If the cost per kilogram is Rs 85, the market offers us Rs 80 and this net loss is the main factor for the shift.”

In such situations, farmers prefer to quit. “Around half of the units established in the estate belong to people from Srinagar; seeing the precarious situation, they either have left their structures totally shut or they have rented them out to newcomers in the field; then the latter again faced the same problem,” Bhat explains.

Meat chickens, commonly called broilers, are floor-raised on litter such as wood shavings, peanut shells, and rice hulls, indoors in climate-controlled housing. Under modern farming methods, meat chickens reared indoors reach slaughter weight at 5 to 9 weeks of age, as they have been selectively bred to do so.

Broilers are not raised in cages. They are raised in large, open structures known as grow-out houses. A farmer receives day-old birds from the hatchery. After five to nine weeks, the hatch moves out for the market. These houses are equipped with mechanical systems to deliver feed and water to the birds. They have ventilation systems and heaters that function as needed.

Since Kashmir climate changes with temperature fluctuating quite often, there are least chances of growing the parent stock here. So the day-old chicks are imported from Punjab and Haryana. “The chilly cold winters in the valley are fatal for poultry, as such, we have to farm the chicks and not grow our own parent, which otherwise could have benefitted us a lot,” admits Bhat. “On an average, a parent lays around 450 eggs in her lifetime; the chick hatched out of it, when reared, gains half a kilogram weight in a month only.”

Most of the day-old chicks to these farms come from two big conglomerates Venkys Group and Skylark Group. The rate and the logistics bring up the cumulative rate of the ready-to-slaughter chicks to such a level that to withstand the competition in the market becomes harsh. Right now, these farms get a day old chick at a rate of Rs 50; even the fertilised egg costs Rs 30 and then the logistics is around Rs 30 – it excludes the loss incurred because of the carelessness of the drivers. “A considerable number of the chicks die on the way,” Bhat said.

In almost all the operating units, the chicks are going through the rearing stage right now and would be ready for consumption after the Eid. Given the dearth of local produce, Bhat believes, the rates have an unprecedented hike in the local market.

“The farm-rate of the ready-to-slaughter chicks is Rs 145 right now, which is unforeseen. Only a little time ago, it was mere rupees Rs 75.”

Right now, Bhat claims, the supply in the market is majorly from outside state. “The suppliers from outside know it better when to raise the rates and when to lower them.” As they are the ones, who also supply the raw material to the poultry farms in Kashmir, they are well aware of the fact when the production in the indigenous farms would be ready. “And once that happens, they would lower the price, and hence would raise competition for our local produce.”

Poultry farming is in distress across Kashmir. “If the highway stops for a week, our whole production gets consumed,” Bhat said. “But if the road is adequately working, the local rearing is in mess.”

In addition to a poultry unit, Manzoor Ahmad, runs a shop of poultry-related medicines as well. This makes him aware of the reasons for the ill state of affairs in the estate are.

One of the foremost reasons, he believes, is the management issues. Before investing in a farm, some farmers are totally unaware about the science of poultry, he said. So once they jump the wagon, the inexperience makes them quit.

“The management includes the education regarding the company you bring the eggs or birds from,” Manzoor said. “Then there are issues of heat management, like what is the optimal temperature necessary in your farm, the pure sanitation, and important of all, which feed is of high quality, and which medicine to use.” The slightest inconsideration regarding these matters had cost. Even the impact could be felt by the neighbouring farms also.

Inside view of poultry farm.

In 2018, the outbreak of Ranikhet Disease (RKD) wreaked havoc on this cluster. In Manzoor’s unit alone, the disease destroyed 11000 broilers each weighing almost 12090 grams. “I could only take out output worth Rs 2.50 lakh only; the outbreak cost me around Rs 8.5 lakh,” Manzoor said. Parvaiz Ahmad, of Valley Poultry, lost Rs 9 lakh.

Apart from proper education, Manzoor believes the poultry units lack proper spacing in the estate. He claims there is only a fire-gap of seven feet between the units, which makes all of them vulnerable in case of any eventuality. “There must be at least a distance of 100 meters between the units in order to restrict the transfer of infection,” he suggests.

The location of the estate in Pulwama – one of the most sensitive areas of the valley – also has a bearing on the working of the poultry here. Since most of the entrepreneurs are from Srinagar, security-related hassles add to their inconvenience. “These investors are being frisked and questioned frequently by the troops and it makes them disinterested to continue here,” said Manzoor Ahmad, an accounting assistant in the estate. “This is not the case with the people employed in poultry only but the whole estate.”

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