A FARMER fears he may lose up to 5,000 egg-laying chickens worth £20,000 following a fire in his main poultry shed.

Ian Lloyd of Leadgate Farm, Leadgate Lane, Huxley, said there could be 2,000 dead birds following the blaze which broke out about 10.45am on Monday.

And in the opinion of his vet the other 3,000 free range chickens may have to be slaughtered because they have inhaled smoke.

Mr Lloyd, former Cheshire National Farmers’ Union chairman, said the fire, caused by a faulty extractor fan, had spread very rapidly.

His son Christian had checked the birds, who only arrived a fortnight ago, and was returning from checking the farm’s other 3,000-bird poultry shed when he spotted smoke coming from the roof.

He burnt his hand opening one of the shed doors and had to go to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. His other son Richard was also affected by breathing in smoke.

The farmer said: “We have got a right mess here. The birds would have been coming into peak production around about November and would have laid for 12 months.”

Mr Lloyd, who has also lost expensive equipment in the fire, will have to buy in eggs to satisfy his 120-plus customers.

“People are screaming for eggs this morning,” said Mr Lloyd, who is married to Elizabeth.

The farmer said the fire destroyed plastic pipes supplying water to the birds meaning the first priority had been to carry out repairs.

And he must work out where the birds can stay while the damage to the shed is fixed as he does not have a suitable alternative building.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service sent two fire engines and the hydraulic platform from Chester and another fire engine from Malpas to the incident.