Nima | Gelephu

Egg prices could shoot up with poultry farmers in the largest egg producing dzongkhag witnessing thousands of birds dying and a drastic drop in egg production.

Many poultry owners reported not seeing a single egg laid in the past five days. Poultry birds in Dekiling, Shompangkha, Samtenling, and Gelephu started to die in large numbers, and those alive have stopped laying eggs, according to farmers.

While there were no official records, close to 40 farmers reported the problem to the Sarpang Layer Cooperative (SLC) on Wednesday. Records with the SLC show that 36 farmers, cooperative and non-cooperative members, reported 3,000 deaths due to the feed. The birds were fed the preferred locally produced Karma Feed.

The dzongkhag livestock sector was expecting a rise in production, as they had supplied over 6,000 layer birds to the farmers five months ago.

Chairperson with the SLC, TP Homagain said that it was distressing to the farmers because almost all farmers rearing poultry have to pay loans and clear credit for the feed.

Poultry farmers in Sarpang have invested at least Nu one million. The high mortality and birds not laying eggs was observed on December 1.

“We could say that it is the feed because poultry farmers using other types of feed have not reported the problem. Almost all farmers using Karma Feed are facing the problem,” said the chairperson.

TP Homagain said that it was the start of the problem. “We don’t know how many more will be affected. The situation might become worse. The problem was not reported before December 1,” he said.

The Layer cooperative collected close to 400 cartons of eggs a day before the incident. The cooperative is expecting a fall of about 60 percent in egg production in the coming week.

Dargaythang Farmer Sanman Subba’s egg production dropped from 10 cartons a day to nothing in the last few days. “We experienced similar problems in the past, but not as severe as this year, he said, adding that the birds stopped feeding.

Problem with Karma Feed?

Farmers said the problem started after they started feeding the birds Karma Feed bought towards the end of November. “On December 1, I collected only three trays. The birds stopped laying eggs completely on December 4,” said Sanman Subba.

The feed samples and postmortem report on the dead birds were sent to the National Research Center for Animal Nutrition in Bumthang and the National Centre for Animal Health in Serbithang, Thimphu for laboratory assessments.

National Poultry Research and Development Centre (NPRDC) Program Director S.B Chamling Rai (PhD), said circumstantial evidence received from the farmers indicate that the problem was only with Karma Feed. Farmers were asked to change feed types.

The program director said that this was a common problem facing the feed industry, especially when the supply of raw ingredients dropped. “If the raw ingredients were good, there wouldn’t be such problems. There might be problems in feed components,” he said.

The official added that similar problems were seen in the feed in the past. “We found a low level of toxic components in the feed. This time the toxic components could be high. Toxic components are usually seen in the hot and humid summer season,” said Chamling Rai.

Farmers were advised not to stock feed for more than 10 days to avoid such risk.

However, Karma Feed’s director, Chencho Wangyel, said there wouldn’t be contamination in the feed, as 90 percent of the production process is automated.

“We are equally concerned and not denying the allegations made by farmers.  The problem could be because of high metal presence such as lead, zinc, and arsenic in the raw materials,” he said.

The company has informed the agents to stop supplying feed made on November 23, 24, 29, and 30 as an interim measure and started producing a fresh new batch. The new batches supplied to farmers in Samtse and Punakha showed positive results from the field, according to the official.

“We are planning to compensate the affected farmers. We understand the farmers’ frustration but this doesn’t mean that it is a lapse in manufacturing. We have stringent in-house practices in place,” said Chencho Wangyel.


Why Karma feed? 

There are four different types of feed in the market today: Karma Feed, BMG, and imported feed such as Samrat and Anmol broiler feed. The most preferred is the Karma Feed produced in Phuentsholing.

Farmers chose Karma Feed because of better credit facilities.

While the quality and the production remain the same for all the feed in the market, poultry farmers could not use other types of feed because most have outstanding dues with Karma Feed agents.

TP Homagain said the farmers chose Karma Feed to support the local production. “Karma Feed was the first to hit the market. Customer service was at its best in the beginning. Today the issues from the farmers are not well received,” he said.

He added that other types of feed did not meet the standard. “People are expecting compensation from the feed industry, as they are facing a huge loss.  Many earn their living through poultry farming. The government also supported the farmers with subsidies while supplying pullets,” said TP Homagain.

A poultry farmer with 1,000 birds earns over Nu 40,000 in a week. However, most of the earning goes to feed agents.

A Karma Feed agent in Gelephu said that the same problem was seen in poultry farms nationwide. “The laboratory test is ongoing and we are not sure if it was because of the feed. There were no such problems earlier,” he said.

He added that the agent supplied feed on credit until the production cycle began because the farmers did not have money to buy feed, while they could afford birds.

“Some farmers have a payment pending of over Nu 1. 2 Million. All Karma Feed agents across the country supply feed on credit. Moreover, the imported feed contained a lot of chemicals,” said the agent.

Producing over 28.9 million eggs in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Sarpang is one of the largest egg producers in the country. The dzongkhag produced over 28.6 million eggs in 2018-19.