Following its pork crisis, China's poultry farmers are now in dire straits because of the coronavirus outbreak. Millions of chickens may soon perish in coming days as much-needed feed is not getting to them in time.
The shutdowns in China's provinces have hit supply chains, with transport restrictions preventing much needed animal feed such as soybean meal from getting delivered to poultry farms, according to analysts and Chinese state media.
As the outbreak spread, Chinese authorities have shut roads and highways, and even halted long-distance buses.
The supply of soybean meal is short to begin with, said financial services company INTL FCStone in a note on Monday, adding that the extension of business shutdowns will exacerbate the shortage.
"This is going to create massive problems in the livestock sector. Even if a local plant has resumed operations, it will still be longer than normal for delivery due to logistics problems (lack of labor, road closures, road checks)," wrote Darin Friedrichs, senior Asia commodity analyst at company INTL FCStone.
"I think in many regions the transport issue (is impacting) the chicken production. It is expected that not only Q1 production but Q2 would be impacted," Chenjun Pan, senior analyst at Rabobank, told CNBC.
Already, farmers in Hubei — the epicenter of the virus outbreak — are in a "very distressed" situation, Hubei's poultry association wrote in a letter to the national-level China Animal Agriculture Association last week.
The letter said transportation is basically paralyzed, and most large-scale farms will face severe shortage of feed soon, which will hit operations.
The China Animal Agriculture Association asked feed producers to send 18,000 tons of corn and 12,000 tons of soybean meal to Hubei.
According to China's state-owned Global Times, there are around 348 million chickens in Hubei, which is the sixth largest poultry producing province in China. Hubei, also a key egg producer, slaughters about 500 million birds each year.
Poultry businesses in Hubei are "in dire need" of feed, said Global Times in a piece over the weekend, adding that existing stocks would only last between three to five days. It cited farmers who said millions of chickens will soon die without new supplies.
Some farmers have been reducing daily feeds in order to make supplies last longer, the report said.
Wuhan is the capital of Hubei, and is believed to be where the coronavirus originated — at a seafood market. The first case reported to the World Health Organization was in the city in late December. Since then, it has killed hundreds in China and infected over 20,000 countrywide.
The crisis is squeezing farmers as Beijing orders the industry to step up production to keep food supply going and prices stable. It's also coming on the back of China's African swine fever (ASF) crisis, which has basically ravaged its hog population and sent pork prices rocketing in the past year.
"Consider that many farmers faced losses due to ASF. Some then switched to raising poultry, which then had bad returns. Now some of them are potentially facing flock or herd losses due to lack of feed. This is obviously negative for feed demand," Friedrichs wrote.
Diners in China turned to other meat alternatives when the swine fever hit pork supply. That included chicken, beef and fish.
The outlook for China's poultry might be further affected, considering that authorities reported on Saturday an outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in Hunan, according to Reuters. Over 17,000 poultry had to be culled following the outbreak, the news service reported.
Reuters reported that China produced 22 million tonnes of poultry meat in 2019, up 12% year-on-year, amid the pork shortage.