Some poultry farmers in the province at the heart of China's coronavirus outbreak are having to euthanise young birds as new rules to contain the disease have paralysed the transport of feed supply and live animals to slaughterhouses.
The ban on the movement of live poultry, believed to be a potential disease risk, has stopped farmers in Hubei from getting chickens and eggs to market.
Hubei is home to Wuhan city, where the coronavirus was first identified. The epidemic has now killed 426 people and infected more than 20,000 nationwide.
Lacking feed for their birds, some farmers are feeding them less, while others are destroying some of their flock, according to a Hubei Poultry Association official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to talk to media.
"So many young birds were safely disposed of," said the official, who didn't say how many had been killed or how.
Last week, the association appealed to the government to allow in feed supplies.
"Farmers have no way of getting by," said one farmer who preferred to be identified only by her surname Chen and who produces about 7,000 eggs a day near Huanggang city. "I am using up my feed stocks and don't know how I'm going to get my eggs out."
Videos have circulated on Chinese social media this week appearing to show farmers in unspecified locations burying chicks, ducklings and adult ducks alive, as well as eggs. Reuters was unable to verify the videos, or confirm when and where they were filmed.
China produced 22 million tonnes of poultry meat in 2019, up 12% on the year earlier amid a pork shortage caused by African swine fever.
Hubei slaughters about 500 million birds each year and is an important egg producer.
Provinces elsewhere have been impacted too, according to analysts, with villages and counties across China erecting blockades on roads in a bid to keep the coronavirus out.
Hatcheries that sell day-old chicks or ducklings to farmers to raise before being sent to slaughterhouses are especially hard hit. With severe restrictions on transport, farmers are unable or unwilling to buy new chicks to restock their farms, said Dong Xiaobo, China general manager for France's Orvia, China's second-biggest supplier of breeding ducks.
"Prices hit a bottom of 5 cents per duckling. Nobody knows what to do with their production," he said.
Many slaughterhouses are also operating at reduced capacity because they cannot find sufficient labour, said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank.
Top poultry processor New Hope Liuhe Co Ltd said on Tuesday its operations had been impacted by the delayed return to work in its factories.
With a life-cycle of about 42 days, supplies of fast-growing meat chickens could plunge in about two months, said Pan, though the impact would likely be short-term unless coronavirus-related measures are extended.
Top Chinese broiler breeder Shandong Yisheng Livestock and Poultry Co Ltd said on Tuesday its operations had not been impacted, "as of now". Its shares closed down 3.78% at 22.1 yuan.