Poultry farmer “baffled” by Ditchling fly problem

The Macmillan family ENGSUS00120120223111651
The Macmillan family ENGSUS00120120223111651

A distraught organic poultry farmer investigated over a plague of flies in Ditchling says she is doing “absolutely everything” to eradicate the problem.

Susie Macmillan who runs Fourfields Farm off Dumbrells Court Road said: “We’ve been organic since 1997 and it’s only in the last two years that we have had this problem. We’re as baffled as the next person.”

Susie, whose farm is known in the community as ‘Mac’s Farm’ has been left devastated and perplexed by the increase in lesser house flies because she abides by the highest standards of poultry welfare and is a pillar of the community, having raised thousands of pounds for good causes.

She told the Middy: “We love this farm - we keep such a clean and tidy free range farm - I don’t know what’s changed in the last two years to make this happen. It’s awful. We are working with environmental services who are coming in every week and we are doing absolutely everything we can.

“We have put in better ventilation in the older sheds and we brought people in to clean them with the chickens still in them. We’ve even thought of leaving one of the old sheds empty and using it for something else but we’re in a recession and it’s very tough. I totally understand that people are fed up. It really is quite unprecedented. Maybe it’s the warm, wet weather? I’m not a geneticist but it makes me wonder if the genetics of this fly have changed?”

Lewes District Council asked independent entomologist Clive Boase to investigate the farm after concern from residents living at the northern end of the village about a plague of lesser houseflies over the last two summers.

Joe Loughran from Dumbrell’s Court, told the Middy last August: “You can see them on the ground and on the walls of the house. It’s like being under siege.”

His near neighbour, pensioner Charlotte Combe, added: “It’s a nightmare because I am blind, I can’t see them, I can’t hear them but I can feel them hitting my face.”

Mr Boase carried out an investigation at Susie Macmillan’s farm last September and concluded that “Fourfields Farm is likely to be the most important source of lesser houseflies in the north Ditchling area” but other significant potential sources “that are likely to be other animal farms” should also be investigated. Mr Boase advises in his report that the best way of reducing the risk of fly problems on an organic poultry farm would be the expensive option of frequently removing manure from a poultry house using an automatic conveyer belt system, which “would require a very substantial investment”.He adds in his report: “If the farm decides to relinquish its organic accreditation then it will be free to use the usual range of fly control insecticides.”

However, Susie, whose chickens are free to roam out into the open-air, said: “Organic is in our heart and soul because we want the highest standards of welfare. We have flourishing wildlife, you can see the bees, the butterflies and bats and we don’t want to obliterate everything. We are working with environmental health 100 per cent. “Luckily, we have a lot of support but I know some people want a witch hunt. I feel quite emotional because we’re not a faceless corporation, we’re a family and this is our livelyhood.”

Susie is following rigorous fly prevention methods, including the use of small beetles in the manure to keep fly larvae down. Flies are still present in the village in the unusually mild, wet weather.

Ditchling Parish Council discussed the fly problem at its annual meeting this week.