Chicken farmer on road to recovery

Few people would welcome the raucous chorus of 8,000 clucking hens but for Norfolk farmer Simon Dann it is the sound of life getting back to normal.

Few people would welcome the raucous chorus of 8,000 clucking hens but for Norfolk farmer Simon Dann it is the sound of life getting back to normal.

Six months ago the farm on the outskirts of North Tuddenham was a very different scene - swarming with poultry workers and vets in biohazard suits systematically gassing every last chicken.

Yesterday with hens pecking at his boots Mr Dann reflected on the family's painful road to recovery from becoming the first casualty of Norfolk's H7N3 bird flu outbreak in March.

The family has clawed back their livelihood despite suffering £50,000-worth of losses and finding themselves shunned by former friends in the normally close-knit farming community.

Both of their free-range farms are now fully restocked producing up to 15,000 eggs-a-day but Mr Dann said he came close to shutting them down at the height of the outbreak.

He said: "I clearly remember the day they culled both flocks, it was my wife's birthday.

Most Read

"I have never seen my staff in tears before, we just couldn't face being on the farm that day - I think I spent the day gardening.

"Afterwards the grieving is probably akin to losing a relative but eventually you have to think this is here and deal with it."

The Dann's compensation of just over £20,000 from Defra only covered half the value of the 16,000 slaughtered chickens - falling about £50,000-short of the final cost to the family.

"We were six months without any income, having to pay three people's wages and stringently clean the houses," he said. "They need to review the fairness of the compensation system."

But the impact wasn't just financial, contract work on other farms started drying up and the family found former friendly colleagues cutting them dead.

"You really find out who your friends are, certain people did not want us on their farms anymore and even did would not speak to us.

"I was in two minds about going to a poultry fair soon afterwards but in the end I stayed away, there were people telling us 'If you come in one door then we will walk out the other'. It was like suddenly becoming a leper."

Despite the backlash Mr Dann said the family also received lots of messages of sympathy and support from the farming community and has now built its contract work back to pre-outbreak levels.

The family has been farming out of North Tuddenham since the 1920's and with its poultry farms back on track the family is now looking to the future with Simon's 17-year-old son Alex working alongside his 76-year-old father Geoffrey.

The family also keep a herd of 120-dairy cows and farms 727-acres of arable crops, growing a mixture of maize, sugar beet and potatoes and from next Easter will branch out into producing its own luxury ice-cream.

Based on the struggle Defra had to get enough poultry workers for the cull - having to draft in people from Scotland - Mr Dann said he believed that authorities would have difficulty coping with an outbreak at a large farm.

He poured scorn on the suggestion in Defra's final report that the infection had been spread to another farm in North Tuddenham by a fox taking an infected carcass from their farm - saying that in five weeks of investigation animal health workers were unable to find a single dead chicken on the premises.