By Charles Bourns, broiler grower, Gloucestershire
This month’s theme is nothing new. Years ago, there was competition amongst the retailers to prove ‘how green is my valley’; this has now changed to ‘who has the lowest stocking density?’ It is supposed to show they have higher welfare standards. If only that were true. It is in fact the stockman who demonstrates high welfare, and not the system.
One problem I see is that some producers are growing to 30kg per square metres with Ross 308s and others are using JA87. There is a big difference in cost of production with the two breeds, but because of customers’ lack of knowledge, the retailer gets away with it. The same happens in the Holland where every retailer has its own standard.
Lower stocking densities also adds costs, which the retailer seems reluctant to give back. It also takes the farm performance back several years. My first crop grown in 1989 had a performance of 1.86kg in 42 days with an FCR 2.14:1. Today, I believe 1.86kg would be reached in 32 days with a 1.49 FCR.
The customer has had the benefit of this improvement in performance in giving them a fantastic value for money product. If the retailer wants lower stocking density chicken they will have to pay more. We are happy to produce it.
If we are changing our system widely then we must promote it. We all sell under the Red Tractor brand and they should promote it more, as the Lion Code does with eggs. TV is not as expensive as you might think. I was surprised to hear when British Chicken Marketing was going that the industry spent the same on marketing as Coca Cola. At present all I hear is that the Red Tractor want to bring in new environmental standards. Whilst I know the Wye Valley situation is important – I live seven miles from it – I do not see why their solution needs to adopted by everybody, adding yet more unnecessary costs to all producers.
One of our protein rivals is fish and I found it interesting to discover that on salmon farms they have up to 25% mortality, which everyone seemed to accept, and the farms still made a profit. I make this passing comment to say that just maybe we in the poultry industry should be given more credit for the fantastic job we do.
Lastly it seems that the retailers are queueing up to give the egg industry money to help producers into the industry. Let’s hope it does not encourage too many in and we end up with too many eggs again and depressed prices. Or is that the idea?!