Hit by mounting losses, small poultry owners have been reduced to mere laborers, rearing chickens on contract for large suppliers.

New Delhi: Being in this business is like flying blind, said a poultry farmer from Uttar Pradesh, wrapping up a long phone call. His business, like thousands of others in the industry, in his words, is dying a slow death. “I am having second thoughts on continuing with poultry,” added the farmer who wished to not be identified by either his name or location.

The reason? Rising feed costs, wild swings in farm-gate prices (the prices received by farmers from the sale of farm produce directly to the large buyers), and demand shocks accentuated by religious practices and vigilantism.

Take the wholesale price graph of eggs, for instance. On 1 May, prices were at a low of Rs 2.87 a piece in Barwala, Haryana, a major production hub in northern India. By 30 June, prices rose to Rs 5.17 — a jump of nearly 80 percent. On 24 July, prices again fell to a low of Rs 3.30 — a steep fall of 36 percent.

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It costs a farmer around Rs 4.50 to produce an egg, and the roller coaster ride in farm-gate prices led to mounting losses in poultry businesses. The swing in producer prices was due to fluctuating demand — which usually falls during the summer.

Religious events like the Chaitra Navratri in April and the ongoing Sawan (mid-July to mid-August) led to a significant dip in demand. The ritualistic abstinence of non-vegetarian food during these periods by a section of the population in northern India, coupled with the forced closure of push carts and small retailers selling eggs in some states scuttled demand, poultry owners said.

The problem, one said, is that a bird can’t be stopped from laying eggs when prices plunge. “There isn’t a switch that one can turn on and off. We continue to incur feed, energy, and labor costs, and are forced to sell at huge losses.” The poultry farmer from Uttar Pradesh quoted above, who runs a 15,000-bird layer farm, estimates his losses at around Rs 3.5 lakh in July-August..….click here to read the full news