Tuomas and Anu-Maarit Välikoski are the 16th
generation on a farm in Vilppula, Finland. They spread the risks by focusing on three types of
agricultural production. All three on a large scale.
‘The Finnish poultry processing plants are running at 110% of their capacity. That makes contract free production of broilers impossible," says Tuomas Välikoski. "There is simply no demand for extra broilers." He delivers his broilers on a contract at Atria. That contract guarantees shipment of his animals at a fixed price. That price is negotiated bi-monthly between representatives of the slaughter company and a group of contract producers. "That system works fine," says the young Finn.
Välikoski has 80,000 broiler places and delivers after a growing period of 37 days on a live weight of approximately 2,300 grammes, or a slaughter weight of about 1,700 grammes. The feed conversion ratio is 2.14, calculated on the basis of carcass weight. The dropout rate varies between batches approximately from 2,5 to 3,5. In Finland antibiotics are not used as a precaution. "Now we have experienced more changes in the dropout rate in some batches because of the coli."
The own grain crop is used for feed allongside compound feed.
Hygiene and tight controls as weapons
Strict hygiene and tight controls are the weapons in the battle against animal diseases for example coli and salmonella. The broiler houses are stocked in one day, and are emptied in two days. A contractor cleans the six stables and disinfects them two times. Then the woodchip-stove heats the stables up to 34°C, even at -25°C in the winter. Before installing the stove, the heating needed 15,000 litres of heating oil per round in winter. Now it needs 1500 cubic metres of woodchips annually. The wood comes from own forest (see box), a contractor chops four times a total of 400 cubic metres of pruning's.
With broilers in the first weeks, Tuomas and his wife Anu-Maarit check them four times a day and remove carcasses. "Those are the main sources of infectious agent," says Anu-Maarit who like Tuomas finished an agricultural degree at a University in Helsinki. They have separate clothing and footwear for each barn, again to reduce the risks of a possible spread of infectious agents. "And that's all you can do in a preventive way," says Tuomas. "It's all about how long you can keep the disease at bay. You cannot treat it other than by giving the animals extra heat if you have doubts about their health or if there is an outbreak."
The woodchip-stove heats the stables up to 34°C, even at -25°C in the winter.
Three weeks after the placement of new broilers the greatest danger passes. A hired hand then takes control of the animals, so Tuomas can focus on the cash crops of the farm that has been in the family since 1580. He or his wife are, at the end of the growing period, always within ten minutes from the barn for assistance in case of emergencies. "The power lines are not in the ground, therefore the energy supply is not reliable. The power goes off multiple times in summer."
Per delivered broiler the price varies around the €0.15 margin. With close to seven rounds per year, that makes it €81,000 per year for labour and housing costs. These are low, regarding that the youngest barn dates are from 1998. The condition is very good, you would easily think that it is 10 years younger.
For heating 1500 cubic meters of woodchips are used annually.
Given the good technical and financial results, expanding the farm is likely. But that is difficult in Finland. The two meat companies determine the production by what they purchase at contract price. Each additional supply distorts the market. "We changed a slaughterhouse one year ago because our old slaughterhouse Saarioinen sold it's meat production business to Atria, " Tuomas says. "Along with a fattener with 30,000 places five kilometers from here, we were the only poultry producers between the two major producing areas. For us it meant also delivering at a heavier weight. No longer for barbecue, 1300 grammes, but for parts production at 1700 grammes. And then expanding, as a new supplier to the slaughterhouse? It is in everybody's interest that expanding happens along with consumption growth. So we will wait and meanwhile expand the cash crop side of our farm."
Is taking over the 'neighbour' with 30,000 broilers not an option? They find humour in the question. "They are my parents in-law," says Tuomas laughing. "I knew my father in-law a lot longer than I know Anu-Maarit. They will stop in five years and then we will take over their company. But in addition we would like to grow."
Three weeks after the placement of new broilers the greatest danger has passed. A hired hand then takes control of the animals.
Tuomas (28) and Anu-Maarit (26) Välikoski.
80,000 broilers, 200 hectare of grain crops and 400 hectares of forest that is mainly outsourced. Some permanent hired staff together provide additional labor equivalent to one full time employee. Additionally Tuomas has a trading company with a partner in Polish silos and German trailers.
Forest requires no labour
Poultry accounts for about 60% of the income of the young Finns. The 200 hectares of cereal farming accounts for 25% of the income, the 400 hectares of forest yields 15%. Annually, the forest needs only some calls to be made but more decision making. Some parts are now 100 years old, but most production forest is harvested in this region as it is about 60 years old. "The forest is mainly a collateral value," says the Finn.
The harvesting of the wood is done by a specialised company. Replanting is done by another company. Ten years after planting, different kinds of wood need to be removed by a third party expert. Ten to 15 years after that, the forest is thinned by another specialised company and twenty to thirty years after that, the entire forest is harvested. The wood, mostly pine and spruce, goes to a large saw mill 10 km away. The annual growth of the forest is approximately 6 cubic metres of wood per hectare. After deducting all expenses, that's good for about €180 per hectare.
The Finnish broiler sector
Finland has 190 producers of broilers, which annually deliver about 65 million broilers to two slaughter companies: the Atria cooperative and the listed HKscan. The self-sufficiency rate is 86%. Almost every producer uses their own wheat beside the compound feed.