Consumers are increasingly demanding higher welfare conditions for farmed livestock – and poultry is no different. The public wants outdoor-reared or extensively stocked chicken, so how can producers deliver that? That will be one of the topics at this year’s British Pig & Poultry online forums on 12 May.
According to Patrick Nicholls, Technical Sales Manager at Hubbard, it’s not as simple as it sounds. The answer, he says, lies in the genetics of the bird, combined with the feed it is given. “We have six different Premium breeder females and large choice of different males to select from and supply our breeders in every environment from almost the Arctic circle to Australia. There is a lot of genetic diversity to use.” When selecting the right breed, Nicholls says a producer must first look at what they’re looking for to produce. Do they want a 2.5kg bird at 49 or 56 days, or a 2kg bird at 70 days? Is it for indoor, free range or organic, and is there a feather colour requirement?
In the UK, the two main Hubbard crosses for slower growing characteristics are JA787 and JA757; these are grown on free-range or organic farms and in enriched environment indoor systems. When it comes to management, the first few days are much the same as for conventional broilers in terms of the requirement for TLC. After that it’s down to the feed. “Diets will need to be tailored to the specific requirements of the breed and the production system.”
Generally, the birds will be easier to manage, particularly if stocking rates are reduced, says Nicholls. In slower growing systems we tend to see health is normally good. Gut health also tends to be stronger, litter quality is significantly better, and liveability is excellent. “They are more active and range more than conventional broilers. I’ve also been told that the farmers themselves experience better job satisfaction with slower growing breeds.”
So how big could the sector get in the UK? According to Nicholls, slower grown breeds currently comprise about 5% of the market. But in the Netherlands 100% of the retail market is slower grown. “I can’t see that happening to the same extend in the UK. There’s a balance to be found, but we could see slower grown birds make up 10-20% of the market in the next five years.”
The forums are free to attend, to secure your place visit www.pigandpoultry.org.uk