For Essex-based egg producers D A Clough & Son, consistency is key for performance and productivity.
What started off as a hobby for Donald Clough in the late 1950s with a few hundred birds, and some second-hand buildings, has blossomed into a third-generation independent egg producing business, still serving some of their original customers in the local area.
Donald, who is now 88, grew the business through the 1960s, reaching up to 25,000 birds. Business growth over the years has been self-funded, growing and expanding as they could afford to, including building conversions.
Around ten years ago, Donald, along with his son Gary, and grandson James took the decision to downsize the business to a more manageable size, and now have 15,000-16,000 housed birds across two buildings, which are bought in at point-of-lay.
Gary and his son James now run the business alongside Gary’s sister Alison, with son Josh and daughter Jodie working part-time, and daughter Gemma also helping out, grading and packing eggs on-site and delivering locally.
When it comes to feeding, the mill and mix was installed on the farm in 1971, and, with regular maintenance, is still in use today. With the major cost of installing the plant bought and paid for, they have favoured this system since, buying in wheat from C Humphreys & Sons in Chelmsford, also selling eggs back to their butchery and farm shop business.
Historically, the business has sourced feed from a number of suppliers over the years. More recently though, in an effort to more closely manage input costs, they decided it was time for some changes.
“With the uncertainty we’ve faced over the past few years, and grain and raw material prices rocketing, we decided to tighten up our input costs and explore feed supplier options,” explains Gary Clough.
On top of that, utilities and other input costs like packaging and fuel have also risen in price, “which is fine,” Gary says, “as long as you’re getting a return on the product, which to an extent, is where our local business model puts us in a better position than some.”
Preferring to keep control of costs by purchasing wheat locally, and continuing to mill and mix their feed on the farm, they worked with ABN account manager George Dinnis and the wider ABN team to create a layer concentrate to fit their requirements.
Rizwan Azhar, ABN poultry nutritionist, worked within Gary and James’ specifications to create a bespoke concentrate. As they were previously using a mixer concentrate they had fine-tuned over many years, the aim was to match this specification at an attractive price.
“With our ABN Housed Range in mind as an end product, I then took their individual requirements into account,” explains Rizwan.
“In this case, we calculated the formula on 70% wheat input, which they are buying in locally, allowing for the concentrate to make up to 25% of the whole feed, plus limestone sourced directly from Derbyshire for shell quality.”
The concentrate contains all essential nutrients required for a laying hen’s diet, including protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals required for growth and skeletal development, ensuring the balance is suitable for body weight, egg production, egg size and shell quality.
For consistency, Gary and James mill and mix their feed fresh on-farm daily, with reliable equipment ensuring the final product is attractive to birds and of the same specification each day.
Gary and James have been feeding this bespoke concentrate for just over a year and, in terms of performance, there are no complaints – “The birds are doing really well,” according to Gary.
“We noticed no change at all when we moved to this new concentrate over the course of a few days, and there has been no dip in production whatsoever, which is absolutely key.”
“It is very easy to knock birds out of lay if something isn’t quite right with the feed, but a combination of a high-quality feed and uniform mixing process means it hasn’t been a problem.”
“Birds are creatures of habit, and they like consistency with feed the same as they do with light. The birds are all looking healthy too, which was noted at our last farm inspection.”
Close attention is paid to egg quality and size as they’re graded; egg size is important, especially when returns are critical due to higher input costs, so it is vital that this is maintained throughout the laying cycle.
“Egg quality and quantity is fantastic, with a good yolk colour and strong shells, and the consistency of egg size and quality has been noted by some of our customers too,” adds Gary.
More recently, the father-son team have been running the flocks longer than the usual 80+ weeks, to 100+ weeks of age, at which point they have been performing at 80% production on ABN feed.
Birds in one building are just over halfway through their laying period, at about 60+ weeks, and still at 95% production.
“Years ago, if we were achieving 90% production for 20+ weeks, we would be thrilled, but now, with improvement in birds and feed, we’re achieving better results, and the birds don’t look much older than halfway through lay, so we’re really pleased,” he says.
They are feeding one ration through the entire laying cycle, keeping protein levels the same. While this is more costly in terms of feed, it means that, as an independent producer, birds are staying in production longer while continuing to produce good quality eggs, so they are having to replace flocks less frequently.
“You get out of it what you put in,” says Gary. “If you reduce protein levels, you’ll still get an egg, but it may be of lesser quality, and it’s more important to us that our customers are happy.”
The alternative approach, which can also help with cost-saving, is to use multiple rations and dropdown specification each time as the laying cycle progresses.
Keeping it local
Known to customers as Tiptree Farm Eggs, D A Clough & Son started small, building their customer base up over a number of decades. Eggs are sold locally to shops, hotels, restaurants, cafés and wholesale catering companies in the county of Essex, some of which supply local schools.
Their “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” strategy (excuse the pun) has meant going the extra mile and putting in more work to establish long-term relationships, with deliveries made on the same route, on the same day, each week.
Locally, the Tiptree Farm Eggs brand is considered trustworthy and reliable, with many loyal customers spanning multiple generations, and business following when establishments change hands.
During recent years, with the egg sector enduring challenging conditions, Gary and James are grateful to have taken the independent route rather than selling to packers and supermarkets, though it has still been difficult to keep on top of rising input costs.
“It’s still not ideal, and we’re currently riding the wave, but we’re being as cost-effective as we can,” he adds.
“Changing feed suppliers, and keeping tighter control of our feeding arrangements has worked, and as far as we’re concerned, if bird performance remains strong, we have no plans to make any changes,” he concludes.
Home mill and mixing
One of the ways to manage the risk of lower returns is to take control of the largest input cost faced by all poultry farmers – feed.
Where farmers may have been buying in premix, plus a few more other raw materials, condensing these into one concentrate can be more convenient. Or where they may have been buying all raw materials previously, and have faced difficulties in sourcing raw materials or rising costs, home mixing can simplify this process.
“It’s about achieving a more-efficient supply chain, meeting market needs and keeping a closer control on costs,” says Rizwan Azhar, who worked with Gary and James to create a layer concentrate to suit their requirements alongside George Dinnis.
ABN’S nutrition teams and account managers work together with customers, understanding their requirements to create bespoke feed solutions. With combined knowledge and buying power of raw materials markets, they aim to support customers operating under difficult pricing challenges.
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