By Charles Bourns, poultry farmer and chair of Copa Cogeca working group on poultry and eggs
Last month I finished by saying I was trying some green sawdust to try and rid us of a problem of high podo and hock burn scores. Well, I am pleased to say it seems to have done the trick. We were one of the worst farms in the country according to the APHA when they visited me – not something that I was proud of – but the green sawdust seems to have worked really well.
In this part of the country EPEF seems to be becoming important to some – something which I acknowledge is a good reference to performance but I still believe pence per square metre is what we grow chicken for. The high EPEF I feel is a levy bought by the use of more and more additives but whose cost is not seen in the farm pence per square metre. I am one of the worst for using new products but as one farmer told me, he has a shed full of redundant good ideas! Nothing replaces good stockmanship, to mention one of my hobby horses.
This month I have been to several meetings and conferences as is the norm at this time of year. As usual the speakers always stimulate the old grey matter but this time I was confused by one speaker who spoke about the ‘ASK’ chicken in the Netherlands where it occupies 30% of production due to legislation. But it would seem they have increased the stocking density up to 38 kgs (the standard chicken can be stocked at 42 kgs) plus they are thinned. Not a great deal of difference now to standard Red Tractor chicken, just a little slower in growth, so before we go down this route, we must make sure we are not taken down the wrong road by the NGOs.
It is worrying to see that within Europe apart from Italy our feed is the most expensive. I know from my feed days that the Dutch are more competitive due to the use of by-products and their mills being close to the ports and coast. Apparently, our market for retail food prices is the most competitive in Europe and because of this our industries are becoming inefficient, but I don’t suppose this will change with Iceland buying from Poland and shelving the new low benchmark size. We must make sure our farms are above reproach to maintain our good name.
The positive message from the South West Chicken Association conference was that most producers were cheerful about the future. Chick quality is good and the fallout from the Tesco supply base changes seems to have been worked through though a big thank you needs to go to those who did not panic when the decision was taken. At the conference it was great to see one of the NFU PIP growers present (PB columnist Matt Donald) a really upbeat and positive paper about his farm and his future.
This month as part of the National Egg & Poultry Awards judging I am off to see a couple of poached egg factories which should be interesting – I have already been to a pickled egg factory. There was a pickled egg scotch bonnet mix, which apparently sells well at beer festivals. It is good to see people working so hard on innovations to keep sales growing.