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Suffolk egg producer hit by bird flu measures ‘nervous of the future’

PUBLISHED: 10:20 17 February 2017 | UPDATED: 10:20 17 February 2017

Riddlesworth free range chicken farmer Ben Chandler pictured in his free range egg store.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Riddlesworth free range chicken farmer Ben Chandler pictured in his free range egg store. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

A free range egg producer from Riddlesworth, near Diss, has said he is “incredibly nervous of the future” after being caught up in a 10km surveillance zone set up around the Redgrave poultry farm at the centre of the latest bird flu outbreak.

Riddlesworth free range chicken farmer Ben Chandler's free range egg store.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYRiddlesworth free range chicken farmer Ben Chandler's free range egg store. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Ben Chandler, of Home Farm, Riddlesworth, near Diss, had to apply for a licence to send eggs from his 16,000 bird unit to Anglia Free Range Eggs at Attleborough, which he received today.

He is doubly affected by the measures to contain the disease as his farm also lies within an area currently designated by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as ‘higher risk’, meaning that it would not benefit from a planned partial lifting of a housing order across England which was imposed on outdoor producers in December.

After February 28, free range poultry which remains indoors stands to lose its status. The ‘higher risk’ status would mean he could put up nets to control the threat instead of housing the birds, which would retain the status, but he and other producers believe this is impractical. He is concerned about his proximity to this week’s bird flu outbreak at Redgrave, although biosecurity on his farm was already high before the imposition of the zone.

“It’s very close. We are only six or seven miles away,” he said. “It’s awful what’s going on.”

Riddlesworth free range chicken farmer Ben Chandler's free range egg store.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYRiddlesworth free range chicken farmer Ben Chandler's free range egg store. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

There were a lot of producers in the area, he pointed out.

“This coming along doesn’t help,” he said. “I would be very nervous of letting my birds out.”

He runs a 16,000 bird unit and is still paying off the loan on the unit which he built to house the diversification to his 800 acre arable business in 2008. The business produces about 15,000 eggs a day and he believes he stands to lose about 20p a dozen if he loses his free range status, which he described as “massive”, translating as a £82,000 a year drop.

“We couldn’t sustain that,” he said. “I’m incredibly nervous of the future of what I’m going to be doing because I can’t take a price drop.” He believes that the birds need to be shut up while the threat of infection from migratory birds remains. “The guidance out there is pretty poor really,” he said. “It’s all been very vague to be honest.”

Riddlesworth free range chicken farmer Ben Chandler pictured in his free range egg store.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYRiddlesworth free range chicken farmer Ben Chandler pictured in his free range egg store. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Ben should be ordering birds for his next flock soon, but says: “This higher risk zone has put a real handicap on us.”

Riddlesworth free range chicken farmer Ben Chandler's free range egg store.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYRiddlesworth free range chicken farmer Ben Chandler's free range egg store. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

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