Fears Covid could cause a Christmas crisis for Welsh turkey farmers

Welsh turkey farmers have warned they face their toughest Christmas yet as families opt for a smaller dinner due to coronavirus.

The prospect of tightened restrictions limiting large gatherings have left many families wanting smaller birds this year.

Turkeys often feed up to 15 people on the Christmas table, but Welsh guidelines still prevent people from meeting up inside each other's homes unless they have formed an extended household.

Farmers are also facing the challenge of enabling staff to continue processing turkeys while remaining socially distanced.

It comes amid another potential threat to their flocks, with new cases of bird flu, also known as H5N8, emerging in other areas of the UK.

Some turkey suppliers bred 30,000 less turkeys this year because of concerns about Christmas. Credit: ITV Wales

Tom Rees, a turkey farmer in Cowbridge, said it has been a challenge ensuring his birds are the right size for his customers.

"You can't exactly go out to the sheds and say to the turkeys 'stop eating too much now. We don't want you to grow too much. We need you to be at this weight,' he said.

"If we end up having a lot of big birds and not the smaller ones, we could find ourselves left with surplus turkeys that we're going to be stuck with."

Turkey producers sometimes buy the birds as chicks from suppliers in the summer, but some suppliers bred 30,000 less turkeys this year because of concerns about Christmas.

The number of people keeping chickens at home has soared during the pandemic. Credit: ITV Wales

There is also the increasing threat of bird flu, with a number of new cases detected in England and one in Northern Ireland, which could also have an impact on the rising number of people keeping chickens in their gardens.

The estimated 7,500 poultry keepers in Wales are being warned to monitor their birds.

"It may be that they are more exposed to wild birds than if you've got a poultry flock that's kept completely indoors," Christianne Glossop, Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, said.

"And yet, they're just as susceptible to avian flu. So the plea I would make to anybody with birds - if you've got one chicken or thousands of them - you must be checking them regularly.

"If you're worried about their health in any way - if they're off colour, not eating, if they're producing less eggs, then you should contact your veterinary surgeon straightaway."

There are also calls for those not on the poultry register to sign up, and for everyone to follow infection control measures.

NFU Cymru policy advisor Dafydd Jarrett said: "We've got the H5N8 now on our doorstep. It was up in Cheshire and Herefordshire.

"Thankfully it is not yet in Wales, and we'd like to keep it that way. Because the effect on this really important industry for Wales - both the egg sector and the meat sector - could be devastating if we get it in here."