A Warning From History

Migrating Geese. Wild birds must be kept away from chicken farms. Strathfield is a haven for wild birds. Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.com

Migrating Geese. Wild birds must be kept away from chicken farms. Strathfield is a haven for wild birds. Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.com

In plants, it is called monoculture; in animals: intensive production. In humans it has many names including overpopulation, overcrowding, high density and/or tenement living.

History has proven that where there is a large population of genetically similar individuals, the potential for destruction of that population by pathogens is a terrifying reality. A time bomb, ticking away.

Many times through history, food crops have been wiped out by disease. In 1845-6, a fungal blight destroyed the entire potato crop in Ireland, resulting in starvation of the population. Many died, others were forced into mass migration to survive.

In the overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions of 14th Century Europe, the Black Death cut a swathe through the population greater than any other known epidemic or disaster. The depraved murderer was a germ Pasteurella pestis spread by the fleas on rats.

Bird Flu is probably the greatest threat to our chickens farmed in Australia. It has a number of strains, some of which are capable of passing from birds to humans. Fortunately, the latest outbreak was not one of them. The closer the bird populations are to each other, and to wild bird populations, the more the risk of infection.

This calls to mind the proposal of putting a huge, intensive chicken operation (70 sheds, almost 3 million birds) on Strathfield, one of Manilla’s most iconic and productive irrigation properties. Being on the river, it is a haven for bird life.

There is an old saying about the foolishness of putting all your eggs in one basket; and another about your chickens coming home to roost. Sadly, in this case, I fear the consequences will be felt by many more than the proponents of this lunacy.

When the developers find that our beautiful Strathfield is unsuitable for their proposed intensive development(as we have been trying to tell them), they could do no better than to learn from these historic examples and seek advice from the intensive farming families of our district.

I commend these families for their excellence and best practice in their attention to:

–         animal welfare

–         biosecurity

–         environmental responsibility

–          and consideration for their community.

One family has gone to the expense of building their own road so as not to inconvenience the townspeople. This speaks for itself: Compare it to the disregard shown to our community by the ‘big business’ proponents of this hideous Strathfield development. These families are an asset to our district and valued members of our community. They should not be made to suffer for the wrong judgements of others, when they themselves are more than doing the right thing.

History has shown the unwisdom of having large populations in one location. Would it not be smarter to spread the farms around the district (on the abattoir side of town; and NOT in a sensitive catchment area): perhaps in the care of separate farming families who have a vested interest in the safety of our community; and thus minimise the health risks to the populations involved, both bird and human? It might have an added benefit of security of income for those on smaller properties in these difficult times.

My plea to the would-be Strathfield developers is this:

Heed this warning from history and don’t put all your chickens in one area. Because they won’t just come home to roost on your doorstep: It will be on mine and that of every other citizen in our community! And yours, too, Councillor Murray.

Strathfield Development: Environmental Disaster?

Environmental issue: flooded creek crossing in Strathfield making Crow Mountain Road impassible. This creek drains the paddocks where most of the chicken sheds will be situated.

Environmental issue: flooded creek crossing in Strathfield making Crow Mountain Road impassable. This creek drains the paddocks where most of the chicken sheds will be situated. Note debris in rising water. Photo:Geraldine Wrench

Here I am in Strathfield, once again, contemplating with horror the proposed intensive development, housing almost three million chickens! I cannot bear that this jewel of our district, formerly resplendent in amber, gold and emerald, is about to be reset in ugly, grey metal and filthy odours.

Will my daily route pass bins of dead birds awaiting collection for disposal? The putrefying remains of those whose delicate systems are unable to survive such crowded conditions, even for the short eight weeks they are given: the unbearable stench an ironic substitute for the fresh country scents of summer grasses and drying hay.

Over seventeen years of daily travel, I have seen Strathfield in many guises: A changing tapestry according to the season. At winter sunrise, glittering rainbow-bright with frost, a mundane pipe-leak transformed into a magical crystal fountain; shadowed and silvery in moonlight; literally, in rain, hail and shine. But never have I seen it ugly!

Strathfield is dry now, its great centre-pivots and lush fields nothing but longed-for memories. Strangely, in what amounts to famine, my thoughts turn to flood. I wonder if the developers have taken into account Strathfield’s unique geographical setting which makes it subject to huge cloudbursts, causing severe local flash-flooding? This phenomenon has to be seen to be believed: the sheer volumes of water mind-boggling. And the roar is deafening.

Would effluent pools or dams have the capacity to deal with amounts of this magnitude? Definitely not possible! They would overflow in minutes!

Torrents racing down the hillsides; waterfalls gushing from high gullies, gaining impetus as they spread out, flooding paddocks and roaring into creeks to carry debris into the river, a few short kilometres away. Anyone familiar with Strathfield knows of these sudden, spectacular inundations during the storm season.

I have witnessed this remarkable occurrence several times, driving through water up to the door sills as the road becomes a river(Yes, hills and all!), all the way to the creek that drains the paddock where forty-two of the proposed seventy sheds will be situated. The creek rises with terrifying speed, and then we have to wait … and wait …

Do the developers know this? Do they care? If not, we must do the ‘caring’ for them.

Since this creek dumps the water (and whatever else it gleaned on its journey across the paddocks) into the river above the Manilla water supply and directly into Harry Burrell’s platypus pool, the risk of pollution is not just too great it is inevitable!

For this reason alone the incredible volumes of water involved in a matter of minutes I believe the proposed development should not go ahead. The property is unsuitable for intensive production.

Strathfield is a historic and beautiful prime agricultural property with a unique microclimate: A bright jewel of our district. Please help us keep it in its true setting. Say ‘No!’ to this heart-breaking development.