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Bird flu in SA: 28 000 chickens slaughtered

An estimated 28 000 chickens must be slaughtered after the recent outbreak of avian flu on a farm in Villiers. 

The highly contagious avian flu broke out among commercial chickens in South Africa for the first time.

In a statement, Astral – South Africa’s biggest poultry producer – said it identified the highly pathogenic H5N8 virus at one of its breeding farms near Villiers in South Africa’s Free State.

The virus holds no danger for humans, but has led to the slaughter of millions of birds worldwide. Birds have also been put down to prevent the spread of the virus. The Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute analysed samples from chickens on the Villiers farm after a high mortality rate was observed.

 Under quarantine

The farm is now under quarantine and all chickens will be killed, said Astral. This will be done in accordance with internationally accepted standards, in co-operation with the State Veterinarian and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

The South African Poultry Association (SAPA) estimated that a total of 28 000 chickens will have to be down.

Officials from Mpumalanga’s veterinarian authorities are on the farm to help with the implementation of the quarantine, to put animals down and to disinfect the farm.


SAPA said the H5N8 virus emerged in various European countries in November last year. This year, Egypt, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo were affected, after a recent outbreak in Zimbabwe last month.

Usually, waterfowl spreads the virus.

Gary Arnold, Astral’s agricultural managing director said the company is on high alert after the virus broke out in Zimbabwe.

“A high death rate over two days amongst chickens on the grounds at Villiers has led to urgent reaction in agreement with the company’s contingency plan.

To manage the sickness

“Astral assures all interested parties that everything is being done to prevent the disease. If this can be limited to the grounds and farms, Astral’s contingency plan ensures that industries can continue without being influenced.”

SAPA said the specific Astral farm is close to the Vaal River.

“The disease is probably prevalent in wild waterfowl, specifically ducks, in other parts of South Africa.”

Big numbers

“We urge the public to report any occurrence of high death rates among big wild birds or backyard chickens.”

At this stage, the chickens affected are a small percentage of the country’s total chicken population and it has a limited influence on supply. The situation is being monitored very carefully,” said SAPO.

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