Technical advice: Tailoring stockmanship for different breeds

Maximising genetic potential requires a breed-specific approach

“We are a global-looking company,” says David Speller, founder and CEO of The Applied Group, an experienced poultry farming business that operates multiple sites around the UK on behalf of its clients. “We look closely at how our birds grow in multiple locations and seek out strategies that we can implement on a specific site. It’s clear from these observations that taking a blanket approach when supporting the birds is ultimately not beneficial. Every breed is different and has certain requirements in order to fulfil their potential.”



The business directly delivers approximately 15 million birds into a number of different processors around the UK every year, predominantly for the retail market. In addition, Applied operates a poultry consultancy and R&D business, OPTIfarm – a global poultry optimisation business that works with poultry producers all over the world, improving bird performance and welfare using trained technicians and data analysis.

OPTIfarm checks the sheds of each client every 90 minutes, before advising clients with real-time advice on how best to achieve their goals. “Through OPTIfarm, we work with the main breeds around the world,” says Speller. “We’ve discovered that it’s not necessarily a case of one breed performing over another. For a bird to yield well and convert feed efficiently, you have to adopt a management style that will unlock that particular bird’s genetic potential.” 


To illustrate these different approaches to broiler breeds, Speller used one of his main birds as an example: the Cobb500. The business has seen excellent and consistent results from the Cobb500, with robust feed conversion and an average daily liveweight gain of 65.1g/day.

However, Speller notes that had they followed a generic management approach, they likely would not have achieved the strong results that they have. “We began cautious experimentation with different approaches,” says Speller. “We used our understanding and knowledge of the breed to measure different strategies and how they impacted the birds. It wasn’t trial and error – each adjustment was incremental and recorded.”

Performance data from the Cobb500 supplied by Applied (5 cycle average)

Average FCR 1.62
Average EPEF 375
Average kill weight 2.406Kg
Average kill age 36.95 days
Average daily liveweight gain 65.1g/day
Best thin weight & age 2.07kg @ 31 days
Best clear weight & age 2.89kg @ 39 days
Best FCR 1.55
Best EPEF 388
Best daily liveweight gain 69.1g/day


Previously, the birds had been growing in sheds with underfloor heating. In hindsight, Speller believes the floor temperatures may have run slightly too warm. He discovered that, unlike some other birds, the Cobb500 reacts well to having more air movement throughout the shed, though this still required caution against wind chill, especially prior to full feathering.

“We have been able to feed the Cobb500 with a lower density diet, which makes the ration cheaper,” he says. “We’re always seeking the tipping point between lower density and FCR. If the birds are managed well, then FCR can be maintained while feeding a lower density and lower cost diet, providing significant unit cost savings.” Applied observed how high the litter quality was late on in the cycle.



In fact, the quality remained better for longer, likely due to the Cobb500’s adaptability to a lower density diet. “As a result, we didn’t need to consider any late use of medication,” says Speller. “Based on data from the processor, adopting a breed-specific approach has helped to maximise results and consistently produced excellent breast meat yields.”


Once an effective strategy had been devised and implemented – and farm staff and the support team knew the particular differences of each bird breed – Speller found that overall performance was excellent. “We actually try and avoid mixed sheds,” he adds. “Managing different breeds in the same way simply won’t let them achieve their full genetic potential.

To succeed, you have to align all the necessary elements: the feed, the genetics, the management, the market for the end product. You cannot simply mix and match, or you risk evaporating margins or poor factory yields. The results we’ve seen from the Cobb500 demonstrate the importance of playing to the bird’s strengths in order to maximise results and realise their full potential.”

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