China’s chicken chain comes unstuck amid chaos of virus measures

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BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s chicken farmers had been looking forward to a bumper year.

But an unprecedented lockdown on people and goods to curb the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted the short but intense poultry lifecycle, threatening output of meat just as the world’s most populous country faces a massive pork shortfall.

China’s poultry production expanded by 12% last year to 22.39 million tonnes, after farmers sought to plug the gap from the pork shortage caused by African swine fever that ravaged the domestic hog herd.

About half of China’s chickens are raised by individual farmers involved in only one or two steps of the chicken chain, rather than integrated operations.

But that has made them vulnerable to the restrictions on movement and labor shortage resulting from Beijing’s efforts to curb the spread of a new coronavirus that has killed more than 2,200 people and infected around 75,000.

Many roads to villages across the country are still blocked, despite government efforts to ease problems for vital industries like food, hampering feed deliveries and movement of birds.

Some feed mills and slaughterhouses are still shut, while others are only starting to reopen after extended holidays and operating below capacity.

That has upset the flow of a supply chain that starts with the sale of day-old chicks by hatcheries to breeding farms, continues with distribution of broiler chickens to growers, and ends in the slaughter of fattened birds, all in less than a year.

“Every step needs to work at the same pace, otherwise there will be an imbalance,” said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank.

Pan Xingle, who raises chickens in Yi county in Hebei province for a slaughterhouse under contract, is still waiting to slaughter 16,000 birds that are already more than 50 days old.

Broilers used for cheap meat by fast-food chains and public canteens reach their maximum weight of 2.6 kg (5.7 lb) in around 40 days.

But the slaughterhouse has only just reopened after an extended holiday and farmers are queuing to kill their chickens.

“I was told I’ll need to wait for at least another 10 days,” said Pan.



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