UK - As one of the most active farming sectors in the South West, you would expect more people to be familiar with the poultry industry.
Set up four years ago as a producer group, the West Country Layers Association has acted as an important voice for the South West’s poultry industry – with over 100 members across the counties of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset, writes westernmorningnews.
With regular evening meetings and an annual conference, the WCLA provides its members with a base, to meet and discuss current issues and offer advice on political agendas that are affecting the industry. The group also runs a number of workshops on animal health and often has guest speakers to inform committee members of the latest developments in the care and treatment of poultry flocks.
Veterinary surgeon Stuart Young has been very much involved with the WCLA since its birth, and delivers poultry apprenticeships and courses at the Colliton Barton Training Centre, which works closely with Stuart’s practice Mount Vets and Duchy College.
He said that the producers meetings have been a huge success so far: “They are a really good environment for producers to be able to chat in an informal way, and just find out what everybody is doing. It’s always a great atmosphere, everyone is sat around the tables and just chatting about how their coping with different things.
“From a veterinary point of view, it is an ideal forum to discuss the control of endemic disease and how different people are tackling it. If there are emerging diseases that are new to the industry then we are the forum that can get it out there to the people and let them know.”
Rachel Watkins, secretary of the WCLA, said that new faces are always welcome to join the committee: “We’ve always struggled to get the word out there to get people to come along. Not every egg producer has known about it and we just want to tell people that we are here to represent them.”
Education and training within the sector has grown significantly in recent years, with establishments including Duchy College, Colliton Barton Training Centre and Mount Vets investing their resources in to poultry-keeping apprenticeships and courses, providing vital training and support for the next generation of poultry enthusiasts.
The South West Poultry Academy Programme, which started in September last year in conjunction with Duchy College’s Rural Business School, delivers poultry apprenticeships to employees from 16 years of age in both the layer and broiler sectors.
Stuart said: “The industry is clambering out for new people to get in to poultry, but not many children know a lot about it. There’s a real need to get youngsters involved because there are fantastic opportunities, right the way through from stockmanship to management roles, and real career progression paths within the big companies.”
Stuart, who was recently awarded the knowledge transfer award at this year’s Pig and Poultry Marketing Awards for his work on setting up the academy, went on to say that breeding units, grower units and hatcheries are all bursting with opportunities for young entrants.
He hopes that the academy will continue to grow and become an asset to the industry in the South West: “The poultry industry has got opportunities across a wide variety of jobs and Duchy College are really well geared up with the apprenticeship programme and it has been incredibly well received and successful.
“If producers are interested in having an apprentice or apprentices are looking for a job, then the College can marry the two together very effectively and match the employer with an apprentice.”
Stuart added that coming from a farming background is not an essential criteria for those considering a career in the poultry sector.
He said: “You don’t have to be agriculturally related to realise these opportunities. It’s a huge industry but there are not many personnel, so it is quite small from that point of view, but it is expanding, especially in the local broiler sector.”
Rachel added that during her Nuffield scholarship, she discovered the importance of good stockmanship and managing the care of a poultry flock. She said: “The level of stockmanship is the key, and that’s why we have been promoting the apprenticeship programme. If we build up our level of stockmanship, then we also build up the level of profitability, which will have a knock on effect to everything else.”
A 2010 Defra census revealed the South West as having one of the largest poultry populations, with 2,328,831 laying and breeding fowl and 3,297,321 broilers in Devon. In Cornwall there are 762,662 breeding and laying fowl and 262,685 broilers.
Rachel stressed that the region’s poultry industry was something that needed more recognition: “It is something that needs to be shouted from the rooftops, that we have got a thriving egg layers and broiler industry in the South West.”
Even with our somewhat unpredictable weather pattern, the region continues to lend itself very well for producing quality chicken meat and eggs. Rachel added: “It was always thought that the South West was going to be the area that you could keep free range chickens. It is surprising how hens will adapt themselves to any environment.”
Rachel went on to say that anyone can get involved with keeping poultry, whether it is on a small or large scale: “You can keep a few chickens in your back garden; have eggs for yourself and then gradually get bigger and bigger, it’s like having an allotment. The management would be almost identical and the needs of a back garden flock would be the same as a huge flock.”
For more information about joining the WCLA committee contact Rachel Watkins on 07966 558386 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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