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Poultry producer in halt after 3,000 chick deaths

• Broiler supply bakes to death at Miami airport

• Leaves Abaco Big Bird chief ‘mad and upset’ 

• Ten lay-offs likely; 20k pounds of chicken lost

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A Bahamian poultry producer last night said it is suspending operations for a “minimum” three-five weeks, and laying-off ten staff, after a cargo bungle saw almost 3,000 of its chicks bake to death at Miami International Airport.

Lance Pinder, Abaco Big Bird Poultry’s operations manager, told Tribune Business he was “mad and upset” after his incoming shipment of 5,200 live broiler chicks was left on the airport’s scorching hot tarmac this Tuesday when the heat index hit 99 degrees.

Just 1,339 survivors from an original 5,200-strong batch ultimately reached the last active Bahamian poultry producer - a loss that will cost the local market some 16,000-20,000 pounds of chicken. Describing this as the latest challenge for the company, which was devastated by Hurricane Dorian and then struck by the COVID pandemic, Mr Pinder said the fatalities resulted from being forced to look further afield for broiler chick supplies.

With Abaco Big Bird’s Florida-based supplier of 27 years unable to meet demand, he explained that the company had to look further north in the US to meet its needs. Using the US Postal Service (USPS) to ship the live chicks was “not abnormal”, Mr Pinder said, given that it is responsible for transporting millions of birds annually, but he had not counted on “somebody dropping the ball” at Miami International prior to the onward transfer to The Bahamas.

Unclear himself as to what had happened, and only receiving third-party information, he revealed that Abaco Big Bird has cancelled a further three-five live chick shipments from the same supply source because “we are not going to tolerate this” happening again.

This will force the poultry producer to at least temporarily suspend operations until it finds an alternative broiler supplier, which Mr Pinder said will result in 13 employees “losing at least two weeks’ work” and another ten full and part-time workers being laid-off until the situation is resolved.

“I’m not happy about what happened,” Mr Pinder told this newspaper. “Our company will never be pursuing this line of sourcing chicks again because this is not acceptable to us and the feeling we have. We’re a small family farm. This is not the way animals should be treated. I don’t know what to say. We’re very upset about what happened over there....

“We’re willing to suspend our operations and shut down our company versus having this happen again. Our animals are our top priority, as are our customers, and we don’t want this kind of stuff to happen. We thought USPS would be a viable option because they ship millions of them [birds], but somebody dropped the ball at the airport and left the boxes sitting there. It’s a mess.”

Mr Pinder said Abaco Big Bird had traditionally sourced its live broiler chicks from a Florida-based supplier, which meant just a 45-minute plane ride was required to transport them to The Bahamas. However, supply chain stresses meant its traditional source was unable to meet demand, and the Bahamian firm was forced to look northwards in the US for an alternative.

Miami-based news channel, Local 10, yesterday reported that Abaco Big Bird’s live chick shipment came from a company called Welp Hatchery. They were transported to Miami on Delta Airlines, landing at 1.15pm on Tuesday, and were unloaded by employees of Eulen America, bring placed into metal baggage carts.

The chicks were supposed to be picked up by another company, Alliance Ground International, which was to take care of them overnight until another operator, Wincorp International, shipped them to The Bahamas and Abaco Big Bird. However, the logistics chain broke down, and the live chicks were left on the airport’s tarmac in the hot sun, resulting in almost 3,000 dying.

The TV channel accused the companies involved of failing to take responsibility for the deaths, and saying only that the matter was being investigated, with one seemingly trying point the finger of blame at the others. “I can’t tell you how mad and upset I am,” Mr Pinder told Tribune Business. “You take those chicks off the plane, and they’re chirping and making noise. You don’t leave them. What the hell? How do you do that? Terrible, terrible.

“We’re not going to do it again. We’re just not. We’re not going to have some birds drop into Miami and die on the tarmac. It’s just not going to happen. We got about 1,339 out of a 5,200 batch. Obviously it’s going to impact our supply of chicken, which has been disrupted by a whole lot of things. It has an impact for us, it has an impact for our staff and their ability to work.”

Mr Pinder revealed that three to five further live broiler chick batches, which were “on order for the future” from the same supply source, have now been cancelled. “This is not how we think animals should be treated,” he added. “We’re going to suspend operations for three to five weeks minimum for our workers until we can find an alternative source.

“We have 13 people that will lose at least two weeks’ worth of work, and I’m looking at laying-off ten other people in full-time and part-time jobs. We’re looking at other things. We’re trying to do the best we can. We’re looking at bringing in the eggs and hatching them right here on the farm so that we don’t have any issues ever again.

“There’s such a shortage of birds in this market right now, but we’re suspending operations because this kind of thing is not acceptable. We will not have birds come to Miami and die on the tarmac. We will do something else for a living. It’s not acceptable for us. We’ll do something else. It’s not acceptable.”

Mr Pinder said the financial impact to Abaco Big Bird from the chicks’ deaths was “hard to quantify”, and he made no mention of whether the company or anyone else involved in the supply chain mishap possessed insurance to cover the fall-out. 

While the company’s upfront financial outlay on purchasing the chicks is likely to have been substantial, he added: “The way forward right now is not about the financial loss. That’s about 16,000 to 20,000 pounds of poultry that won’t go on the Bahamian market. It’s very difficult, very difficult.

“We got through COVID, got impacted by the hurricane, and in all this stuff we were finally getting our market back. Then this broiler shortage came along. We’ve been trying to manage it, and then this happened. We’ve really been hit hard. We’re looking for help. We need funding, we need financing to do all these things and actually make food supply in the country more resilient.

“There’s nothing I’ve bought in the past year that has not gone up 15-100 percent or more. Right now I need about $250,000 to do all the things for the farm that I’m looking to do for the farm that needs to be done. We’re here. We’re plugging along. We have lots of organic avocados on our farm, limes. We’re just trying to do the best we can here. We’re working on it. We don’t give up. We keep pushing along.”

Abaco Big Bird’s woes are also badly timed for the Davis administration’s drive to revive domestic poultry production, with Clay Sweeting, minister of agriculture, marine resources and Family Island affairs again talking this up yesterday ahead of a government delegation’s visit to Jamaica next week where it will visit companies such as Caribbean Broilers and Jamaica Broilers.

Mr Sweeting said in a statement: “The poultry industry is one of the fastest-growing agricultural sub-sectors, especially in developing countries with an expected growth rate of 15 percent by 2027. There is a huge market for poultry products in The Bahamas that has been untapped for years but can be revitalised.

“Chicken is a mainstay of the national diet in this country. They are relatively easy to raise. However, we only domestically produce around 5 per cent of our consumption. The Bahamas was once 100 percent self-sufficient in table eggs and we had a thriving broiler as well.

“It is important that as a government we provide policies to encourage growth in this sub-sector. However, we also need the support, and want to encourage, private development investment to revive the industry. It is important that we are direct with our approach to feed ourselves and to create opportunities simultaneously.”

Mr Sweeting said Jamaica is one of the Caribbean countries that has developed a robust poultry sector through significant investment in the industry.

“The poultry industry in Jamaica contributes between 15 and 20 percent of the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). It creates, directly and indirectly, economic activity and livelihood for over 100,000 persons and is a major alleviator of unemployment in the rural areas,” he added. “Our Caribbean counterparts such as Jamaica have done extremely well, and we hope to replicate a model similar to their poultry structure in The Bahamas.”

Comments

John 2 months, 1 week ago

This what makes poultry susc a risky and low profit business. The operators have to keep jumping over hurdles and being prepared for the unexpected. And hoping by miracle they still make a profit or just break even, even. Sad what happened to those baby chicks at the airport in Miami. Maybe it’s time for a local hatchery.

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