COCCI Profile: A Perfect 10

Despite obvious differences, Amadori's premium and standard broilers have found common ground in one major area of production management "coccidiosis control.

Other than ruffled feathers and feet with three pointed toes, the colorful broiler chickens raised outdoors for high-end specialty markets bear little resemblance to the stark white, big-breasted broilers produced in confinement to meet the world's high-volume demand.

The differences in genetics and housing are obvious, but free-range, organic and other niche-market birds also have specific needs in terms of nutrition and animal health.

In many cases, these differences are driven by good husbandry and common sense. In others, government regulations or buyer specifications may determine which feed ingredients and animal health products producers can use.

Confronted with shifting consumer trends and the sobering possibility of not having any in-feed drugs available in the future, some innovative poultry companies have boldly added premium lines to meet growing demand for more natural products. In the process, they've discovered common ground when it comes to one major area of poultry management: coccidiosis control.

Balancing act

Amadori, Italy's second largest poultry producer, is a case in point.

The family-run enterprise founded in the 1930s now produces 80 million broilers a year, nearly one-third of which are for its aggressively promoted "Amadori 10+" product line. The simple but memorable brand name was inspired by the company's new, rigid 10-point criteria that shun animal byproducts, GMO crops and growthpromoting antibiotics in favor of vegetables, soya, mineral salts and vitamins. (See Amadori's "10 Rules of Farming." )

Day-old chicks are vaccinated in the hatchery with Paracox-5 to stimulate their natural immunity and provide lifetime protection against coccidiosis. If any medication is needed, Amadori resorts to water-soluble antibiotics to speed recovery.

The 10+ line is backed by a meticulous tracking system that allows Amadori to trace the origin of virtually every bird. All of the company's birds are bred in Italy.

Building confidence

Their two-market strategy appears to be working. Despite a depressed chick- en market in recent years, Amadori's overall volume is at a record high, yielding a broad range of products including roasters, parts, breaded products and prepared foods, including new Buffalo wings and complete meals with side dishes.

Amadori launched the 10+ line - and the high standards that go with it "in 2001 after the BSE scare made consumers wary of eating commercially raised beef and other proteins. The 10+ line sought to build consumer confidence, satisfaction and safety while also meeting discriminating Italians' demand for high-quality food and convenience.

Still, Amadori decided to go one step further.

In 2002, the company launched Il Campese, an extension of the 10+ line. The birds meet the same 10-point criteria, but they are reared in open-air facilities with 70% of their diet made from cereal grains.

Il Campese birds are placed in buildings at a rate of 10 for every square meter, but they have ready access to an outdoor area that affords 1 square meter for each bird. Overall production costs for Il Campese birds are about 15% higher than Amadori's standard broilers, but they also command higher prices.

"Il Campese birds are carefully selected among specific breeds with reddish feathers," explains Maurizio Arienti, production director for Amadori. "Their legs are longer and thinner, and they also have a thinner, more pointed breast."

A hit with customers

According to Flavio Amadori, general director for the company, the straw-colored meat of Il Campese appeals to consumers who prefer meat with more color, firmness and consistency. In a test conducted with 800 consumers, 73% noticed the difference from the standard 10+ product and as many as 97% said they would buy it again. The specialty line now accounts for 30% of Amadori's sales.

"All of the birds in our 10+ line need to meet the same criteria and be raised under the same high standards," Amadori says. The company's efforts to reduce or eliminate drugs from production is also spilling over to its 56 million standard broilers.

For example, for about 6 months of the year, all of Amadori's birds "the 10+ line and its standard broilers "are vaccinated in the hatchery with Paracox-5. Arienti says the vaccine protects against the major strains of Eimeria, which causes coccidiosis, while eliminating the need to use anticoccidials in the feed. Amadori keeps its 10+ birds on the vaccine throughout the year. Standard birds receive an in-feed anticoccidial during the 6 months when they are not on the vaccine.

Added flexibility

According to Arienti, not using anticoccidials in their standard and specialty birds is a big advantage for Amadori's feed mill, which also services contract growers who supply 35% of Amadori's total production. He says the vaccine eliminates the risk of delivering medicated or unmedicated feed to the wrong location and the cross contamination in the feed mill. Using a coccidiosis vaccine also allows Amadori to be more flexible in the feeding program because the company does not have to worry about withdrawal times.

"We sell on weight, not on the number of days the birds have been alive," Arienti says. "If the market wants 1.7-kg (3.74-lb) females tomorrow, we want to market at 1.7 kg. It doesn't matter if they're 36, 37 or 38 days old. Using a coccidiosis vaccine gives us that flexibility."

In terms of performance, Arienti says it is difficult to assess how birds vaccinated for coccidiosis compare to those given traditional in-feed anticoccidials.

"In the beginning of 2002, we had to discontinue use of all feed ingredients from animal origin," he says. "So between the ban on some protein sources and our own decision to stop using certain drugs and other additives to comply with our 10+ guidelines, we knew that live weight gain and feed efficiency would decline.

"But we have definitely seen an improvement in coccidiosis control since making the vaccine part of our program," he adds. "The anticoccidials we were using in the feed were wearing out and not working that well."

Arienti says they occasionally see what he calls "non-specific enteritis" in the vaccinated birds, but he attributes that to the absence of growth-promoting antibiotics and the anticoccidials. "If we watch our birds closely and act quickly at the early stages, we can easily control enteritis with water medication," he adds. "A lot of what we learn with 10+ line birds can be adapted for use with our standard broilers."

Being proactive and keeping a close eye on the birds is nothing new at Amadori. Despite its rapid growth, the company still owns more than 60% of its grower operations.

"Today some people think of us as marketers, but live birds are still the foundation of our business," says Amadori, son of the company's founder, Francesco. "This is a familyrun business, so working closely with the birds is part of our heritage. Our goal is to find better ways to raise these birds and meet the changing needs of our customers."

The 'Last Word' on Poultry

Amadori's 10+ line and other products are aggressively promoted in TV and magazine advertisements featuring the company's affable founder, Francesco Amadori.

The ads always end with the same line: "Francesco Amadori's word of honor." The campaign evolved into more than just a slogan, however. In 2002, it was credible and powerful enough for him to be awarded Cavaliere del Lavoro (Knight of the Job) from Italy's President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Source: CocciForum Issue No.8, Schering-Plough Animal Health.

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