Leon in an empty stable.
in the series revenue model We delve into unusual ways in which people unburden themselves of being together.
The worst outbreak of bird flu so far has hit Europe, and this is also noticeable in the Netherlands – the dunes of Texel, for example, are strewn with dead terns. Since October 26, 2021, poultry farms must keep their poultry indoors to prevent contact with infected wild birds. In addition to this obligation to protect, the obligation to screen applies to hobbyists. However, bird flu is still diagnosed on a poultry farm somewhere every few days. More than three million animals have been culled so far.
How does this “cleaning” actually work? What goes into killing and taking out tens of thousands of chickens? Because I am curious about this, I contact the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, which is the responsible body. They paired me up with one of my supervising vets during the culling: Léon Labout (50). I met Leon at the heart of poultry farming: Gelderse Vallei. Here we visit a company where 60,000 chickens were culled. As we walked through the extinct stables, I asked Leon what he had in mind when he gasped a hundred thousand chickens, what it would take to slaughter, and whether all those dead chickens would make him sad.
VICE: Hi Leon. How does a barn like this catch bird flu?
Lyon: It is very difficult to say that. The virus, coming from a wild bird, somehow enters the barn. How exactly this happens is not clear. It can happen in many ways: by people, animals, products, or even wind. The farmer does everything in his power to protect his chickens, but despite all hygiene measures, the virus can still be transmitted to the coop.
How do poultry farmers discover that chickens have bird flu?
Suddenly there are many dead chickens in the coop. Or there are sick animals. The poultry farmer then informs the Netherlands Consumer and Food Safety Authority (NVWA). If a report is received there, someone will be sent to it immediately.
someone like You?
yes. I have a six-week shift in which I can be called 24 hours a day for seven days if a report is made. Then I go out with my swabs to test the animals. The samples I take go straight to the lab. I will get a result in a few hours. Often it is not bird flu, but if it is, we will get rid of it ASAP.
What is the speed of fasting?
There is no more than twelve hours between notification and clearance. It is important that this happen as quickly as possible. Because every chicken infected with bird flu is some kind of virus factory. In fact, when we look at a report and think it’s bird flu, we’re already all set up. Then we’ll be ready with the gas car.
Did it happen that the farmer didn’t report because he didn’t want the chickens to be gassed?
number. A poultry farmer wants to report a sick chicken as soon as possible. Because the faster you report, the fewer viruses there are in the stable. This is especially important because you want to prevent the spread of the virus in your area. You are also responsible for the businesses around you.
What does clearance look like?
On clearance day, we drive to the site with a team of about sixty people. These are people from the gas company, drivers, people from restaurants, people from NVWA, but above all a lot of expats. Rapists are people who pick up chickens after they have been exposed to gas. It often includes hundreds of thousands of chickens that have to be picked up one by one. So this is labor intensive. With the help of hoses, we bring carbon dioxide to the stables that need to be cleaned. When necessary, incisions are plastered. The entire barn is filled with sensors to monitor the carbon dioxide concentration.
Is there someone in the stable?
number. Because this gas is also deadly to humans. Sensors allow us to measure what is happening in the barn. When all the chickens are dead, we open the doors to let out the gas. Then I’ll be the first to look. Then I check if the chickens are clean and if they are all dead.
What do you do if the person is still alive?
This does not happen. But I always have medicine to give a chicken a lethal injection. If that happens.
Then all the chickens are collected. Sometimes these are hours, but sometimes business days. Finally they are all in a container and taken to Rendac. This is the company where they are destroyed.
What is your role in all of this?
I’m somewhat of a manager. I supervise the whole process. It’s a big job, with a lot of people and a lot of things. There should be a toilet, shower cart and a truck full of materials and personal protective equipment. And making sure this all goes smoothly, that’s my job. I am the site manager.
What does that do to you? This clearing?
Do not make me sad. But it’s not fun. I never think: yippee, I can go to the execution. I already think: Yes, we were able to evacuate quickly according to plan. This gives a kick.
Did you find it difficult before?
What I find difficult is disinfecting the stables as a precaution. If bird flu is detected somewhere, all companies located within a radius of one kilometer from that company will also be excluded as a precaution. Getting rid of healthy animals that may not have been infected is more difficult than removing animals that cannot be saved. I also find it difficult for poultry farmers to be completely devastated at times. Sometimes someone cries or screams loudly. This is completely logical. It’s their animals, it’s their passion, and it costs them money.
Do poultry farmers get compensation when their animals are culled?
If bird flu is diagnosed in a company, the appraiser determines the current value of the animals. Poultry farmers get this amount again. Partly from the government and partly from the Animal Health Fund, for which they pay. However, this amount does not compare to the actual damage. Because after obtaining a permit, the company is empty for at least weeks, but sometimes for months as well. First you have to buy new animals from the breeder and now that there is a lot of bird flu, they are very busy there. There are farms that were culled in October and still do not have new animals. This often costs poultry farmers tons on top of the current market value of their animals.
Do you already have chicken yourself?
number. You can’t if you’re doing my job. Suppose the virus is with you, then you can transmit it.