UK – Two speakers at the British Pig and Poultry Fair last week highlighted the importance of looking closely at every detail of a poultry business, using new technology and learning from other industries to improve profits.
Small changes can make a big difference
First to speak was Daniel Dring from PD Hook, who focused on the small changes businesses could make to boost bird health and thus improve results. “Prices certainly are not going to be going up in the foreseeable future, in my opinion,” he said. “So we have to rely on well-trained, well-motivated staff, innovation and technology, and attention to detail.”
One key area that Mr Dring highlighted was biosecurity, and proper disinfection in particular. Blowing farms out thoroughly removes all the organic matter, and helps make the disinfection protocol work. Personnel should also dry houses before applying disinfectant, and know the correct dilution so as not to waste money.
Other areas to avoid neglecting include electrical controls, clothing and house boots, water tanks and water lines.
“The best disinfectant of all is 7-8 days clear,” he added.
Getting chicks off to the right start is another area where Mr Dring has looked to improve farming practices.
Floor temperature and water sanitisation are important environmental factors to get right, but from a welfare point of view he said producers should look to work with staff to ensure they are properly trained in tipping chicks out. This involves dropping them straight onto the floor instead of from a height, to avoid stress. “It takes a few minutes longer, but it pays dividends,” Mr Dring said.
To improve management throughout the growing period, Mr Dring mentioned vaccination audits and maintaining correct lighting, among other measures.
Technology and data management hold huge potential for poultry farmers
Next in the forum programme was David Speller of Applied Poultry, a company that has won a number of awards for efficiency.
Mr Speller focused on the more futuristic aspects of farm improvement. He spoke about the speed at which chickens now grow and technology develops, and the challenges of keeping up with this.
One other issue that Mr Speller touched on was recruiting and training appropriate farm staff. “I believe that somebody who is naturally good with animals is not necessarily naturally good with technology – it’s just how you’re wired,” he said. “We have to come up with a system that allows for that, and not expect everybody to do everything.”
Together with increasingly tight margins, Mr Speller said these issues all form risks that need to be managed and minimised. He said that an important aspect of this is predicting and preventing problems, some of which needs to be built into facility design.
On new farms, they can be designed to only have one point of entry for all the barns, making it more likely that workers will go through all the biosecurity steps before entering.
New technology can also allow remote monitoring of birds, so workers can check barns from home.
Lots of different types of data can be merged into a model to help improve farm management over time, even including behavioural aspects such as sound and movement, as well as food and water consumption.
Furthermore, data monitoring can be used to help inexperienced poultry workers get up to speed, by identifying areas in which they fall behind their more experienced colleagues. It could also show farms’ welfare credentials to consumers, and possibly even predict disease outbreaks to help reduce veterinary treatment.
As the technology becomes more complex, Mr Speller said it could work better for the controls to become more centralised and remotely managed, offering support to individual farmers who may not be comfortable with the programming knowledge levels required.
Looking further ahead, other possibilities include temperature monitoring robots to get a more consistent view of conditions at bird level, using immersive technology headsets to do a virtual inspection of the flock and tailoring conditions to individual birds.