Christmas turkey shortage warning as bird flu concern causes suppliers to shut up shop
Turkeys could be in short supply this festive season as multiple suppliers have decided to shut down production amid ongoing outbreaks of bird flu.
The avian disease has blighted flocks in domestic settings and around Scotland’s coastline in recent years.
Dr Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s chief veterinary officer, said 2022 saw the worst outbreak of bird flu across Britain ever, with some 3.8 million birds dying according to UK Government figures.
So far this year, multiple premises across Scotland where outbreaks have been detected have been ordered to implement protection and surveillance zones to prevent further spread of the virus.
With Christmas less then four months away, farmers raising turkeys are having to make difficult decisions as to whether they continue prepping their birds for the festive season with ongoing outbreaks.
Callum Donaldson, who runs Commore Farm in East Renfrewshire, said the risk of the virus was too big to raise his flock this year.
"If you lose all your turkeys, what are you supposed to do?” he said.
“There were dead seagulls found on a reservoir near us and Environmental Health called me to warn me about it. We’re are just too nervous about the virus to go ahead this year.”
Mr Donaldson said aside from the business risk, the welfare concern is enough to put him off.
"It must be harrowing if flocks get it,” he said.
"We like to keep our birds outside. But every year for the last few years there’s been a lockdown because of outbreaks and you have to end up putting the birds inside.
"They still have big sheds here, and polytunnels, but it’s not how we normally do it, they’re normally out and about.”
Perthshire artisan producer, Charlotte Blackler, has also decided to pause raising her flock this year.
Her business, Herb Majesty, normally sells around 200 free-range turkeys, which are raised on the wild herbal pastures of Glenalmond, near Crieff.
She said the risk of infection with current cases would mean having to keep the flock under cover which goes against her farming practice.
“I have been agonising over raising turkeys this year and finally made the decision not to go ahead,” she said.
“With the prospect of having to keep the birds indoors for their whole lives without access to our herby pastures, fruits and berries, I would not be able to produce the Herb Majesty birds my customers know and love, and that goes against my ethos of naturally raised food.
“Turkeys are very susceptible to flu but I am hopeful that by next year some natural immunity will start to emerge and I hope to be back in 2024.”
The impact of the virus has gone beyond domestic turkeys and wild birds.
Isle of Lewis crofter Domhnall Macsween said his flock of hens were the latest victims of bird flu.
Posting about the plight of his birds social media he said: “Eight dead yesterday afternoon, about 20 more since then and more showing symptoms.
"All my poultry will be culled shortly.
“Nine years of egg production coming to an abrupt end.”
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