Comment: We risk shooting ourselves in the foot with slower growing birds

By Matt Donald, pig & poultry farmer, north Yorkshire

May saw the Pig and Poultry Fair go online with a day of online forums, it was a great day with some informative forums put together to learn from. I miss knowledge transfer in person however, online meetings work well, but you learn just as much when you have a drink at the bar after as you do during the presentations.

I was fortunate enough to chair the ‘Success with the slower growing bird’ forum. With both Charles Bourns, who has experience in growing the slower growing bird and Patrick Nicholls of Hubbard who gave a great insight into how to make the bird a success.

It made me think further about slower growing birds and what they mean for the industry, we had discussions around how to promote this to the consumer. We should be proud as an industry of our fantastic welfare standards, existing commercial broiler units have taken welfare to a new level in recent years with modernising facilities combined with added windows, perches and bales. There is a place on the shelf for the slower grown bird, however it should not be promoted as better than today’s welfare standards, or we risk shooting ourselves in the foot.

Poultry markets have seen consistent growth over recent years because chicken is a great versatile product, that is also affordable. There is a home for top shelf, niche poultry, but many consumers of today turn to chicken because they can feed their family a healthy meal and still have some change for a desert. These birds are easier to grow, potentially use less antibiotics, lower mortality but will cost more, so can we let the consumer decide what is demanded instead of being NGO driven?

Combine this with growing pressure for farms to lower their carbon footprint, given the extra resources required such as water, feed and space, in an environment where people do not want to live near farms, then in my eyes it remains a niche product within this country. Mainly because as far as welfare is concerned, we are already on track with red tractor assured chicken. I would like to see Greta Thunberg tell you which is best for its planet saving credentials?

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