By Rachael Porter
Given the meticulous attention to detail and close working relationship that G & K Craddock has with customers, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that when the business was named Pullet Rearer of the Year at last year’s National Egg & Poultry Awards, it was the first time that the Whitchurch-based business had won an award.
And that fact also that goes a long way to explaining why Steve Craddock is delighted with the company’s win. He says that the accolade means all the more because it came about following nominations from long-standing customers: Country Fresh Pullets (CFP) and Lloyds Animal Feeds.
“They put us forward because they felt we stood a good chance of winning,” says Craddock, adding that you don’t get better than that in terms of recognition for a job well done.
“Not only have we been recognised by our customers, but also the wider industry. It’s put us on the map in what is a large and competitive industry. We’re working in our own niche and can be over looked, even though what we do and how we do it plays a key role in the success of the laying flocks that our pullets go on to.”
G & K Craddock & Son began, from the family-run mixed farm based at Wigland Hall in Cheshire, back in 1958. Steve’s father Graham reared his first order of 300 pullets for Brian Appleby. These were reared in tier brooders with ‘electric hens’ (heated canopies for 100 chicks). The young birds were then moved to hay box brooders for four weeks, and then finally on to verandas to 18 weeks of age.
“A lot has changed since then, in terms of the birds and the infrastructure and the scale of our business. But the attention to detail and high standard of customer service that we offer hasn’t altered. And I think that’s why the business has continued to grow and build on its success during the past 60 years,” says Craddock.
By 1960, the business had regular 700-bird orders for Mike Bevan (Thornbers & Sykes Chicks). By 1962 there were regular 800-bird orders for George Taylor. And the business was also rearing pullets for Ken Penny (Double A rep), whose hatchery was based at Wem, and one of his customers at Macclesfield. “We gradually built up numbers at Wigland Hall to 7,000 birds of mixed ages,” says Craddock.
“All birds were reared to order. That was our USP back then and it still holds true today. Customers know that we can rear the birds that they need and for the systems they require them for. We offer a bespoke service and we are very much ‘customer led’ and adaptable in our approach.”
Graham and Kath Craddock married in 1968, when they also set up the current business. In 1971 they bought Hill Farm and built a Pilgrim Hyline house for 8,400 birds on contract for J P Woods, managed by Mike Ashwin, rearing the Kimbrown Hybrid.
When JP Woods ceased hatching commercial layers, Ashwin took the business to Anglian Food Group and, when that company went into liquidation, Country Fresh Poultry was set up by parent company Lloyds Animal Feeds under the management of Alan Leal and Mike Ashwin. At that point, G&K Craddock stopped all private rearing and moved to full contract rearing for CFP. This agreement is still in place today and the working relationship has continued to thrive for more than 40 years.
The business has also continued to expand, with the eighth house, for 38,000 pullets, being built in 1998. In 2002 the business began renting three local ex broiler breeder sites, adding another 100,000 rearing spaces to the business. In 2003, the first house was replaced by a new litter house, holding 33,000 birds.
Between 2006 and 2010, two further local sites were rented, adding another 40,000 places to the business’ total capacity. A ninth and tenth house, housing 70,000 more birds, were built between 2013 and 2015, taking pullet rearing capacity to nearly 400,000 for the business. And in 2017, two cage houses were converted into litter rearing houses, as the industry moved away from caged systems.
Today, Steve Craddock is in charge of the family business partnership, working alongside his parents and wife Helen. “I’ve been part of the company since 2000, when I returned to the family farm, and took on the management role in 2012.”
During this time, just as his parents have always done, Steve has constantly looked at improving in-house systems and practices. “Our key business drivers are not only body weight, evenness and mortality, but also bird behaviour and welfare.
“And, with this in mind, we have gradually introduced, and in some cases superseded, perches, slats, nipple drinkers, and feeding systems to match customers’ requirements. We have also installed dawn-to-dusk dimmers, LED lighting, and water sanitisers and monitoring systems.
“We look at the environment and try to implement changes that will benefit the pullet, such as temperature, humidity and light intensity at different stages,” he adds.
He says that scale has played, and continues to play, a key role in the business’ success. “The size of our operation means that we are better able to meet customer requirements, both in terms of numbers and systems. We also understand what they need and we have a lot of knowledge and expertise after many decades in the business. We also have a good reputation.”
He says that it’s vital to ‘stay ahead of the game’: “We almost need to know what customers want – and be able to provide them with that – before they know themselves. I think that CFP see us as a ‘show farm’ too – they often bring prospective customers along for a tour, so they can see what we do and what we have to offer.”
Craddock reiterates that winning the award means a lot to him, his family and their business. “It’s additional ‘outside’ confirmation, from the wider industry, that we’re doing something right. We knew we were – you don’t stay in business and grow like we have if you’re not doing a top job of providing customers with exactly what they want and when they want it.
“But this award is icing on the cake and has given us – and our four full time staff – a boost. It’s always nice to have a seal of approval or positive feedback, whether that’s from a customer or one of their egg producers, or your peers.”