Avian flu: poultry farmers in turmoil, near Pont-Audemer

Producer of foie gras for twelve years, Antoine Maupoint raises around 8,000 ducks per day at the Mont-Crocq farm in Toutainville. (©The Awakening of Pont-Audemer)

If no outbreak of avian influenza has, to date, been detected in the department of Eure, poultry farmers do not hide their concern. Because for several weeks, in France, the number of contaminations at H5N1 virus (or avian influenza) blazed. After a first outbreak of H5N1 discovered on November 26, 2021, in the North, the epizootic quickly spread to several departments located in particular in the Pays de la Loire and the south-west.

On April 15, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food took stock of the situation, indicating that France had 1,286 outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in livestock. On March 25, 2022, an article from the daily The world pointed out that more than 14 million poultry had been slaughtered since the start of the avian flu epidemic. If Normandy is not one of the most affected regions, four outbreaks have nevertheless been detected in Seine-Maritime. The latest, in a farm in Catenay, near Rouen, where 8,000 poultry had to be slaughtered.

Sanitary restrictions also concern amateur breeders

The animal health measures put in place by the government do not only apply to professional poultry farmers. Even individuals who keep a few hens are obliged to confine them or put them under a shelter surrounded by a net, to prevent them from coming into contact with migratory birds that carry the avian influenza virus. Yoann Le Guet is president of the Eure poultry company. A breeder of pigeons, ducks and poultry of different breeds, he organizes the Évreux poultry fair every year. Her passion, like that of many individuals: participating in poultry beauty contests by presenting poultry of unknown and rare breeds.
After the Covid-19 crisis and the successive confinements which prevented poultry enthusiasts from meeting, they are now faced with a new crisis: avian flu. As a result, beauty contests and other poultry exhibitions are canceled for the time being. If the situation persists, Yoann Le Guet fears a demotivation of breeders, thus leading to the disappearance of certain breeds: “With the successive crises and the cancellation of competitions, some individuals have decided to abandon their selection breeding by selling or killing their poultry. The risk is to see a genetic heritage disappear”, alarmed the amateur breeder: “Some breeds are already disappearing. For example, there are almost no more Normandy geese. »
To stem this avian flu epizootic, Yoann Le Guet is asking for authorization to have his poultry vaccinated: “Today there is a vaccine, but only zoos have the right to use it because they are rare species. »

Confined poultry

In an attempt to stem the spread of this epizootic which, in recent months, has proved to be particularly contagious, the government has implemented health policy measures such as mandatory confinement or netting of poultry in all farms and poultry yards in France. The H5N1 virus can be transmitted between infected migratory birds and domestic poultry.

Antoine Maupoint is forced to leave his ducks in the buildings.
Antoine Maupoint is forced to leave his ducks in the buildings. (©The Awakening of Pont-Audemer)

At the Mont-Crocq farm, Toutainville (Eure)near Pont-Audemer, Antoine Maupoint raises more than 8,000 ducks a year. foie gras producer for twelve years, present on several markets including the Friday market in Pont-Audemer, he also has 3,000 chickens. For several years, avian flu has been one of its major concerns.

“The health pressure has increased this year because there is a lot of contamination in France, notes Antoine Maupoint. In the first years, we were only asked to follow training in biosecurity and to clearly demarcate breeding areas to avoid contamination that would come from outside the farm. “But since France was placed on November 5, 2021 in a “high” risk zone, given the progression of the H5N1 virus, hygiene and disinfection measures are no longer sufficient.

Like all his colleagues, Antoine Maupoint must confine his poultry. Accustomed to “frogging” in the open air, a large part of its waterfowl are housed in buildings. But the breeder does not currently have the necessary facilities to confine all of his breeding. “We are in the process of constructing an additional building. It will be ready in October. The building permit is filed. We saved everything we could. This future building constitutes an unforeseen and significant financial investment in the breeder’s cash flow.

“Originally, to raise ducks, there was no need for buildings. A duck can live outdoors all year round. »

Antoine MaupointBreeder

Even if he recognizes that protective measures are necessary to fight against avian flu, he does not see with a good eye the obligation to confine his poultry raised in the open air: “It is where animal welfare ? “, he is indignant. He continues: “Me, my ducks, I want to see them gallop outside. This decision goes against our know-how, which is free-range breeding. Customers who buy our products want to see our animals running free. »

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A feeling shared about ten kilometers further, at the Baroche Vilain farm in Lieurey. The manager, Anne-Sophie Villain, raises between 1200 and 1500 chickens per year. “From that time, they would be much better outside. It hurts my heart to see them locked up, ”she laments.

The breeder adds that the confinement is not without consequences: “My chickens risk gaining more fat because inside, they eat more food. Outside, they partly feed on insects and can run. The organization of daily work is also impacted “since it takes twice as long to clean the buildings”, specifies the breeder who sells her products on the markets of Cormeilles, Deauville, Honfleur and Rouen.

No foie gras at Christmas?

Return to the Mont-Crocq farm in Toutainville. If the end of year celebrations may seem far away in the minds of many of us, Antoine Maupoint is already thinking about it seriously. Every month, he receives a “load” of around 500 day-old ducklings from a hatchery in Vendée. They are then raised for three months on the farm.

“In July, August and September, we receive 1,200 because the demand for foie gras is high for the end-of-year celebrations. “Problem, for two months, Antoine Maupoint no longer receives ducklings. Due to avian flu and to prevent the spread of the epizootic, poultry transporters leaving risky regions (such as Vendée) no longer have the right to take the road. “Our activity depends on the hatcheries”, assures the breeder from Toutainville. And if the health situation does not improve in the coming weeks, his company could find itself in great difficulty: “50% of our turnover is achieved during the end of year celebrations. »

In the meantime, in an attempt to compensate for the loss of foie gras production, Antoine Maupoint has decided to diversify its activity by embarking on the breeding of geese. 800 small day-old poultry, born in an area that is not considered to be at risk, recently arrived at the Mont-Crocq farm: “For the moment, this is the only solution I have found to continue to produce meat and foie gras. From now on, every day, the breeder crosses his fingers so that Eure is not added to the sad “black list” of departments affected by avian flu.

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