As the spread of avian flu in Estonia has led to strict regulations on poultry farming, chickens have not been able to enjoy the outdoors this year. If these regulations stand for another three months, farmers cannot sell eggs as free-range eggs, but it is not likely.
A free-range chicken egg is designated by a number one on the code printed on the egg. This however does not mean that the chicken has been able to take as many walks as they want. Starting from March, due to risk of avian flu, poultry livestock has only been allowed to be kept indoors.
"Free-range poultry farmers have certainly been affected by this decision. EU regulations for free-range birds state that such birds must also be allowed outdoors for certain periods. Free-range chicken eggs cannot be sold as eggs if this outdoor ban has kept up for 16 weeks," said Hele-Mai Sammel, deputy director general of the Agriculture and Food Board (Põllumajandus- ja Toiduamet).
Sammel said that previous experience has shown that chickens will likely be free from restrictions by Midsummer's Eve (Jaanipäev, June 24 - ed). Easing the restrictions should coincide with the end of the migratory period, free-range chicken keeper Heli Lääts added.
Lääts is not worried about the outdoor ban as this is not the first year this has happened - chickens can just wait out the colder period of spring. "There is not much reason to let chickens outside right now as it is since it is so muddy. It is not like the chicken will do anything smart there any way. They can get some sun, that is good and well and chickens like that. That is what we have also done, we let our chickens out when they have something to pick on in the yard, meaning when the yard has some green grass," Lääts said.
Lääts is certain she will not have to make any changes to marketing. The company in Pärnu County, Argo Agro, has some 1,000 chickens and clients are mainly private persons. Chickens are hand-delivered with many orders going to Tallinn as well.
"Interest for free-range chicken eggs has grown each year. We are not even capable of fulfilling all orders because we do not have enough birds. Often times, we have had to refuse since our capacity is filled and we cannot take any more orders," Lääts noted.
Hele-Mai Sammel said that there are close to 2.5 million chickens in Estonia, most of them registered at large-scale producers, where they are kept indoors, so the ban affects smaller keepers and farmers.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste