by TREENA HEIN © Copyright AgMedia Inc.
In the wake of Pigeon King International (PKI) demise in June, some of the estimated 150-300 farmers in Ontario who held contracts with the company are beginning to euthanize their birds.
According a web page entitled “Information for Pigeon Owners,” maintained by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the acceptable methods are cervical dislocation and gassing with carbon dioxide.
Although cervical dislocation is deemed an effective way to cull flocks with birds numbering in the hundreds, farmers with thousands of birds are expected to opt for gassing as the most efficient way to end their pigeon production days.
Two organizations are listed on OMAFRA’s website as providing on-farm gassing services: Brian's Poultry Services Ltd. in Mildmay, near Walkerton, and Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO), based in Mississauga. Better Farming interviewed spokesmen for both organizations on June 30.
Brian Herman, owner of Brian's Poultry Services Ltd., says he has only gassed pigeons on three local PKI breeder farms to this point (each with a few thousand birds) and hasn’t received “that many” calls so far, he says “We know there are lots more of them out there.”
Mark Beaven, EFO Field Operations Manager, says “We are getting calls every day.” EFO has completed two whole barn pigeon euthanizations to date.
With as many as 200,000 to 400,000 pigeons on former PKI farms in Ontario alone, both Herman and Beaven expect many more requests for gassing birds in the weeks to come from both inside and outside the province.
EFO and Brian's Poultry Services Ltd. serve different farming set-ups.
The Ontario Farm Animal Council has contracted EFO to provide technical expertise and the equipment to farmers with birds in sealed barns. Beaven says, “As long as the barn is the sealed type and the numbers warrant, the whole barn euthanization is the best approach.”
Farmers with relatively small number of birds or those without a sealed structure are probably better to use Herman’s system.
“The calls that I’ve been getting are small barns that don’t have many birds in them,” Herman notes. “You’ve got to remember that (with EFO), you’re going to have to fill that whole barn with gas, regardless of how many birds are in it,” hardly cost effective for big barns containing a small number of birds.
Gassing isn’t expensive. Setting up for it is. For the pigeon gassing he has so far provided, all within about an hour’s drive of Mildmay, Herman charged $750 for the first chamber gas cycle (2,000 birds), and $150 for each cycle needed thereafter. “The actual gassing only takes seven minutes,” he says, “but if we spend an hour driving there, a half an hour setting up and the same thing coming home, you’ve put about four hours into a seven-minute job. Adding another cycle adds very little (to the cost) except the gas.”
To keep the fee as low as possible, Herman suggests that farmers within a reasonable distance of Mildmay pick up the bird holding containers (called ‘carts’) at his headquarters in advance and fill them with birds overnight. Herman will arrive in the morning, load five carts into the chamber per cycle and gas the birds. He has 15 carts available.
Beaven says EFO’s euthanizing charges depend mostly upon the size of the barn. Individual farmers have to contact him for an estimate.
Beaven adds, “we’re not charging anything for the equipment or the technical expertise, only for gas and contract labour on a cost recovery basis. We’re not making money at this.”
Both EFO and Brian's Poultry Services Ltd. are willing to provide gassing services for former PKI contract holders across Canada.
Herman says he has received one inquiry so far from outside of the province, from Manitoba’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives. He says that his company, which provides euthanization for broilers and spent laying hens, normally serves all over Canada and the United States.
However, he says “If someone wanted us to travel a distance though, we’d need to have a plan then. If we could get a few guys together, that’d make it all worthwhile.”
Beaven says, “As long as it’s on a cost recovery basis, if we can help out, we’ll help out.” He adds “There’s really no one else in the country (besides EFO and Brian's Poultry Services Ltd.), except maybe the Canadian Food Inspection Agency– I’m not sure – that offers this kind of service.”
Both EFO and Brian's Poultry Services Ltd. are able to provide on-farm bird euthanasia because of the potential threat of a avian influenza outbreak that has existed for the last few years. Beaven says they built their whole-barn gassing expertise for just such a situation.
Herman says his idea for his portable gas chamber became a reality two years ago with the assistance of expertise at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, OMAFRA, the University of Guelph and the Agricultural Adaptation Council provided.
Herman says, “(The chamber’s) been in steady trials at the university. They’ve been doing experiments, trying to come up with the best mixture of gases . . . When this (PKI situation) came up, we went and picked it up. ”
How are pigeon farmers coping? Herman thinks they are mostly becoming resigned and preparing to move on. “People are needing to find peace with themselves,” he says.” They need time to think it all through and realize, ‘Boy, this thing really is over and what am I going to do?’ and then they’ve got to go through the decision-making process (regarding euthanasia).”
Beaven agrees that pigeon farmers are mostly resigned, but frustrated over the financial losses. “We’re trying to be respectful of everybody, and we’re there to help out where we can,” he says. “The reason that EFO has volunteered is that there is a potential risk in terms of disease contamination if the birds were released, and we think it’s probably best that if there is no market for these birds, euthanization is your only option.”
Of the pigeon farmers he has met, Herman says “They’re all very very nice people. They feel bad about the whole thing, but it’s one of those things that you want to clean up and put behind you and move on. I think they show some compassion towards the birds too…These are special little birds to them. That’s one of the things that I think is bothering everybody is that they’re pretty attached to their birds.”
Herman adds “They know their stuff. They’ve been doing a very good job.”
Alison Cross, Manager of Communications for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA), says while her organization is “always concerned” about any possible inhumane culling or neglect of pigeons or any other animal, they are working alongside OMAFRA in the interest of helping farmers access resources.
Last week the OSPCA obtained and executed a search warrant at PKI headquarters in Waterloo.
Cross would not comment on any possible recent complaints or pending investigations of cruelty or neglect of pigeons. She expects to be able to provide information in a few days.
From Herman’s and Beaven’s perspective, they are convinced that gassing is a death free of pain, distress and fear.
“On our side and on Mark’s side,” says Herman, “both of us know that we can do it humanely. We’re not at all worried about that.”
Brian's Poultry Services Ltd. will take calls 24 hours a day except from Friday from 6 pm to Sunday at 1 pm. EFO takes calls during normal business hours. BF © Copyright AgMedia Inc.