© AgMedia Inc.
by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is scrambling to figure out how best to deal with hundreds of thousands of pigeons in barns across the province after the sudden collapse of a controversial pigeon breeding scheme.
Ministry spokesman Brent Ross is urging pigeon producers that have been associated with the now-defunct Pigeon King International not to turn their birds loose.
“We absolutely do not want producers or pigeon raisers to be letting the pigeons out of the barns.”
On Tuesday, Arlan Galbraith, the owner of the Waterloo-based company notified his contract growers, suppliers and holding barn operators that he had handed his business over to a bankruptcy trustee. By Wednesday the company’s offices in Waterloo and Moorefield were closed. Galbraith couldn’t be reached for comment.
In a recent interview with Better Farming, he estimated that he had 1,000 contracts with operators located in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and several U.S. states.
In his Tuesday notice Galbraith advised that those who received his free birds, as well as holding barn landlords, “are free to deal with the pigeons in their barns in any way they choose. You can sell them for whatever price you want to whomever you want. You can auction them off. You can let them fly free in the fields with the wild pigeons. You can gas them and bury them on your farm.”
Larry Ross who has operated a PKI holding barn with his brother Gerry at their Hickson area property since the beginning of this year, says they plan to euthanize the 12,000 birds currently in their barn.
He says he and his brother won’t lose anything in the company’s collapse but they will consult a lawyer to guide them.
"The man (Galbraith) has followed everything he said; a couple of people ruined it," Larry says.
Brent Ross says the ministry is working with provincial poultry organizations, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to determine how best to euthanize the birds, which at least one of the province’s poultry industry boards considers to pose a biosecurity risk to their flocks.
“Even if you let them out of the barns they consider the barns to be their home, their roost and that’s where they eat and everything so you’re just going to have pigeons about your yard.”
“They’re not going to leave.”
But there are some significant challenges.
“We don’t have access to PKI’s list of farms so we don’t have a complete understanding of where they are at this point,” Ross says, adding that he’s unable to “hypothesize” how the ministry would go about compiling such a list.
He says estimates of the number of farms or establishments raising the birds in the province range from 150 to 250. The minimum number of birds involved would be 200,000 to 400,000.
“We don’t know what a potential maximum might be,” he says.
Just who would absorb the costs of euthanizing the birds is another factor that would have to be determined.
“We certainly are there to provide advice and that sort of stuff but in terms of going out there and actually physically doing gassing and all those money relationships that are involved with that it really is still up in the air,” he says.
Mark Beaven, director of operations for Egg Farmers of Ontario says the province’s poultry industry has been monitoring the situation for quite a while.
He says he contacted other organizations and OMAFRA yesterday after hearing rumours that pigeon producers/contractors might consider the option of releasing the birds into the wild.
From a disease or health prevention point of view “we are quite concerned about that,” he says. “You’ve got thousands of avian species that have been raised in captivity and then released into the wild, there are definitely concerns.”
The organization has offered its expertise and equipment to OMAFRA to assist with euthanasia efforts and its members are pleased that OMAFRA is paying attention to the situation.
Beaven says, however, that the lack of knowledge about where these birds are located raises questions about the importance of being able to trace the whereabouts of any livestock.
In terms of the pigeons “there’s no real marketing board or government regulatory agency in terms of monitoring it - it’s just a private individual” whose efforts at records-keeping are unknown, as is the location of the barns. “It’s concerning to us.” In contrast, the exact location of the properties of those who belong to the province’s poultry organizations are clearly mapped, there are regular inspections of the operations and there is “constant” communication between the producers and their organizations.
Dennis O’Connor, director of operations and field for Chicken Farmers of Ontario says the presence of the birds should not pose a problem for broiler operations as long as normal biosecurity protocols are maintained.
“There’s been some issues where some (PKI) barns have had disease in the past that OMAFRA has given us a heads up and we’ve passed it on to the farmers,” he says, noting he’s currently not aware of any diseases in the pigeon flocks.
His organization as well has offered its assistance to OMAFRA, as have the other feather boards, he says.
Ross says the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been notified of the situation. Calls to the CFIA were not returned before this posting.
For more information about how to deal with the birds Ross recommends contacting the Agricultural Information Centre 1-877-424-1300. To obtain advice on how to handle financial difficulties he recommends producers contact the provincial farm debt mediation service at 1-866-452-5556; if dealing with high stress or difficulty dealing with the situation on an emotional level contact the FarmLine at 1-888-451-2903.
“If somebody feels that they were defrauded by all means they should be speaking with the appropriate police department.” BF
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs pigeon information page