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‘Feed conversion 1.00 is the future’

Broiler farm Bitterhoek in the Dutch village of Poortvliet raises its broilers in a six-storey Vencomatic Patio system. Bram Bevelander says, “If we ever want to expand our company further, we will definitely build another Patio house.”

In the nineties of the twentieth century, the Bevelander family knew they could no longer make a living from their company with twenty bulls for fattening and 35 hectares of arable farming. They decided to apply for the necessary licenses to build their first broiler house. In 1998, the first 24,000 broilers arrived.

Successors Bram and Corina started thinking about the company’s future in 2006. Bram was 42 at the time and assumed he would have to continue working for quite some time. The next generation, 16 year-old son Martijn, was not sure he wanted to take over the company at first. “Because my parents had such clear plans for expansion, I decided to become a poultry farmer. However, we needed to grow substantially in order to become a future-proof company.” They heard about the Patio system and contacted Vencomatic. Bram states, “They had the predecessor of the current Patio system installed in an experimental poultry house at the Wageningen University & Research trial company Het Spelderholt. The moment we saw it, we thought: ‘This is it!’

This Patio poultry house has a ground surface of 2,400 square metres with a living space for the chicks of 5,800 square metres. There are 150,000 broilers on six levels. Photo: Dick van Doorn
This Patio poultry house has a ground surface of 2,400 square metres with a living space for the chicks of 5,800 square metres. There are 150,000 broilers on six levels. Photo: Dick van Doorn

Acquisition of the trial system

The family immediately saw the Patio system’s advantage of being able to do more rounds a year and keep 2,8 times the chicks per square metre. In 2006, the family decided to keep the chicks in the system for three weeks, rather than seven days, before transferring them to a regular broiler house. In the same year, Vencomatic asked the Bevelander family whether they would like to have the trial system installed in their regular broiler house, because the university had terminated the Spelderholt facilities.

Bram adds, “That is exactly what we did. However, the first three years were difficult. We really had to experiment to get everything in order. Getting the climate in the poultry house just right was especially hard.” A brand new Patio system was built in 2010, based on the experiences with the Vencomatic trial system in the Bevelander’s poultry house. The difference with the old Patio system was that the space between the storeys went from 40 to 80 centimetres. Bram notes, “This made sense, because the chicks had to stay in the system for three weeks.” Because the first poultry house’s trial status expired in 2014, the family applied for a license in 2012 to build a Patio house next to the old trial house. The authorities did not consent, however. The family found a new location and built the current Patio house in Poortvliet. This poultry house has a ground surface of 2,400 square metres with a living space for the chicks of 5,800 square metres. There are 150,000 broilers on six levels.

The climate in the poultry house is easily managed. Before chick placement temperature is controlled manually. Photo: Dick van Doorn
The climate in the poultry house is easily managed. Before chick placement temperature is controlled manually. Photo: Dick van Doorn

1 kg feed = 1 kg meat

The Bevelander family’s Patio house has many very special innovations. The hatching eggs are brought into the system automatically through a transport system. They only need to be put on a conveyor belt at the lift. The eggs are then hatched in the system, with Martijn using an egg temperature metre. The six storeys can be checked rapidly with a control lift. The family works with all-in all-out. The chicks stay in for 38 days. Bram adds, “We do unload 20% twice in this period. The first time at 27 days and 1,550 grammes, the second time at 32 days and 1,950 grammes. At day 38, they will be 2,6 to 2,7 kg. We are only allowed to have 42 kg per square metre at day 38.”

Bram and Martijn want to be able to make 1 kg of meat from 1 kg of feed within five years. If everything goes according to plan, they will. The have already reached a feed conversion of 1.08 – 1.18. The family always uses Ross 308 chicks. They mix wheat of their own crop from 10 to 12 hectares in the chicks’ feed. This is about 30% of the company’s total feed requirements. “Another very special and useful part of the Patio system is that we can withhold the chicks’ feed before periodically unloading them. Because of this, we observe less intestinal disorders in the animals,” says Bram.

The family’s Patio system boasts 1.10 metres long and 2.4 metres wide conveyor belts that carry the chicks. Periodically unloading the chicks is very easy, because these conveyor belts run until about 20% of the chicks are in the system. Bram states,“As the conveyor belts run, the chicks are placed on a special broad transport belt. We lower this belt in front of the belt with the chicks. The chicks are then placed into a carousel with a discharge belt, where the catchers can easily reach them. We continually try to perfect the discharge system, because we want our chicks to reach the slaughterhouse without a scratch.”

Corina, Martijn and Bram Bevelander are thinking of further expanding their operation with another Patio house in the future. Photo: Dick van Doorn
Corina, Martijn and Bram Bevelander are thinking of further expanding their operation with another Patio house in the future. Photo: Dick van Doorn

Special ventilation system

Youngest son Martijn joined the company in January of 2017. Martijn: “It is very special that our chicks, that always come from two of the same breeders at most, have a sole lesion score of 0-35.” This is partly due to the poultry house’s ventilation that keeps the conveyor belts with the chicks nice and dry. A Vencomatic climate chamber has been installed in the patio house’s attic. This chamber houses the Agro Supply heat exchangers: air-air changers that recycle the house’s heat. The ventilation system was designed in such a way that this heated air is transported down through two large screens. It then goes underneath the screens and flows into the storeys through small inlet valves, after which it rises again.

The family is very content with the new poultry house. Martijn adds, “We see less stress in the chicks and we are less at risk of infection, because we do not need to work with catch teams in the poultry house. We have been free of antibiotics for the past year-and-a-half.”

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