Interview: Anna Healy of Joice & Hill, unit manager of the year award-winner

By Rachael Porter

Crowned Unit Manager of the Year, in Poultry Business’ National Egg & Poultry Awards, Anna Healy has a lot to be proud of. She’s overseen expansion and considerable improvements at Joice & Hill’s Peterborough-based hatchery and KPI improvements are testament to her impressive management and communications skills, as well as the continued dedication, that she brings to such a pivotal role.

Joice & Hill is the UK distributor for the layer breeds of Hendrix Genetics and has capacity for 13.8 million female chicks each year. “When I took on the role, back in 2016, the hatchery was using 25-year-old multi-stage incubation equipment. So, I’ve overseen expansion, as well as other investments and improvements that have seen our KPIs move in the right direction, for the past two years,” she says.

Joice & Hill Poultry operates modern breeding and hatching facilities and there has been recent investment in advanced incubation facilities and a modern vehicle fleet. “This not only ensures that we have the capacity to hatch healthy and productive chicks, but we also have the means to deliver consistently high volumes,” she explains.

Consistent quality

Hatching eggs are provided by East Anglia-based parent stock farms, which are also owned and managed by the company. This also helps the hatchery to focus on quality and consistency.

The hatchery design incorporates the correct flow of people, eggs and equipment to minimise cross-infection risks. As part of the modernisation programme, over seen by Healy, all hatchers and setters were replaced with Chick Master single stage technology. “Set capacity is 40 million eggs per year with over capacity on hatchers to enable up to 430,000 females per week in four hatches per week,” she explains.

“As part of the refurbishment, we also changed from multi-stage air-cooled incubation to water-cooled single stage with a heat exchanger to re-use biological heat. This has enabled us to improve energy efficiency in the hatchery by more than 50% while, at the same time, improving chick quality and hatch results.

The hatchery building covers an area of 3,320m2 and employs nine full-time and 16 part-time staff, plus six full-time drivers.

Continuous training

Healy, who has a BSc degree in Animal Biology from Nottingham Trent University, began working for the company, as an assistant manager, back in 2012 and was promoted to her current position just four years later. Prior to that, she worked for Moy Park, as a graduate management trainee.

And her training has continued. She now has many additional qualifications and certifications under her belt, including: health & safety, first aid, food hygiene, rodent control, chemical training, and communication. “I’m also a qualified chick welfare officer and have reached Novatech Level 3, as well as completing a chick master Incubation course.”

As for those all-important KPIs, Healy says that hygiene is the stand-out success. The hygiene results target was 90% and, under Healy’s management, the hatchery achieved 92% in 2017 and regularly exceeds this. Test results are now routinely between 90% and 94%.

Another objective is to reduce seven-day mortality rates. This is ongoing and improvements are being seen – undoubtedly helped by the excellent hygiene standards.

Improved hatchability

Hatchability has also improved from 2016 to 2017 by 1% to 39.93%. This represents an improvement of more than 1.5% compared to results in 2015, when the hatchery was still in the process of switching to single stage machines. “Our standard breeds averaged between 39.0% and 42.2% females on egg set. Eggs from mid-age parent stock at optimum egg age often reach 43%+ females,” explains Healy.

She has also been instrumental in reducing staff turnover – all recently employed staff have now been with the company for more than 12 months. Customers are also happy, because chick quality has improved. Feedback from customers and area sales managers in 2017 was extremely positive.

“Our parent stock routinely exceed hatching egg production targets by between 10% and 12%, despite rigorous selection criteria. And 100+ female chicks per female breeder is the norm.

Healy prides herself on working towards ensuring that the company has one of the most modern, bio-secure and efficient hatcheries in the UK. “As the demand for chicks has increased, I have maintained quality through the machines, quality processes, staff training, and regular audits,” she says.

Staff support

“Encouraging some members of staff forward to progress within the company with extra training to supervisor level has also been important – to maintain and improve standards. I believe that it’s very much about bringing younger members into the team and making the hatchery staff more versatile in the way that they work.”

Healy says that staff motivation is key to success. “My leadership style and pro-active management helps here. I regularly work alongside the staff on the production line to ensure motivation is kept up throughout the day. And I believe that it’s important that people enjoy being at work – happiness is a great motivator.”

The company also puts a lot of emphasis on team building events and a policy of rewarding exceptional performance.

“I also regularly assess staff to see whether they are suitable for the desired progression. If they are suitable then training courses are discussed and a tailored progression plan is agreed with the employee.”

And, she’s eager to point out, that her success is also down to team work: “I wouldn’t be able to do my job, and we wouldn’t see such good results, without the support of such a dedicated and talented team at Joice & Hill.”

Extensive monitoring

Biosecurity is also high on Healy’s list of priorities. The hatchery is fully accredited and audited to ensure that it meets the high standards of hygiene, bio-security and traceability required by the poultry industry. “Overalls are colour coded for each area and staff are segregated into egg, transfer and take-off teams,” she explains.

The hatchery is also in the Poultry Health Scheme and audited by BEIC for the Lion Code, HSA and Freedom Foods. “And we hold the traceability and bio-security measures required by DEFRA to achieve designated status to safeguard supply at times of Avian Influenza. All premises operate an extensive health and hygiene monitoring programme based on code of practice requirements, but with in-house additions such as egg swabs.”

Healy adds that Crowshall Veterinary Services are retained to consult on the hatchery’s bio security strategy and are an integral part of the production team, which carries out an audit every 12 weeks.

“We have also installed CCTV outside to monitor biosecurity measures and if any member of staff is found not adhering to the policy disciplinary action is taken. Chemical audits are carried out twice a year, to ensure that foot dips and chemical application are correct.

“And we have new barriers installed to ensure that all vehicles wash their wheels and arches when entering the hatchery.”

SOPs and training on biosecurity is also reviewed for all staff periodically.

With all this in mind, Joice & Hill also won the title of Hatchery of the Year at the 2018 awards. “We select top quality hatching eggs from our Bovan, Shaver, ISA, Warren and Dekalb breeders to produce the highest quality day-old chicks for egg producers in the UK and Eire. And we are the only commercial scale UK hatchery to offer both brown and white layers from UK housed parent stock.

“We also operate grandparent back-up flocks for the worldwide breeding company, delivering parents to Malaysia when other options were blocked by Avian Influenza in Europe.”

She adds that Joice & Hill’s area technical sales managers maintain contact with flocks throughout the laying cycle, providing advice and support, alongside vets and nutrition experts, to experienced and novice producers alike.

Future expansion

So, what’s next? Further expansion is on the cards, with three A18s being added that will push female chick numbers up to 15.5 million per year and total chick numbers up to 31 million.

“So it will be important to keep those SOPs tight and retain the skilled and dedicated staff that we have, as well as keeping our KPIs on track and our customers happy. I’m confident that we can do that – we have the capacity, the technology, the expertise and the passion to do it.”

In-ovo sexing – prior to hatching – could also be on the cards in the future: “But it’s still a long way off – the technology still has a way to go. But that could be an exciting development and it’s something that a hatchery of our size and standing would be interested in. It offers production efficiency and ethical benefits. So we’re keeping a close eye on that.”

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