When the plans for Hooks Drove broiler farm, near the English town of Ely, were drawn up, the objective was to build a flag ship farm. “It should perform top of its class,” says owner Dominic Parker. Layout, automation and ventilation were designed with efficiency in mind. “That is our ticket to the future.’’
Broiler production in the United Kingdom, over the last few years, is on the upswing. Older farms from the 70’s with 40-80,000 birds are still in production and many new operations are coming online as well. In recent years multiple farms of between 300,000 and 500,000 birds have been built, especially near processors to keep the so called chicken miles, the distance between farm and slaughter facility, low. Every week some 20 million birds are processed and Hooks Drove poultry farm supplies part of that demand. The farm of 520,000 birds in 8 identical houses can supply the processor efficiently, as it is built to be as efficient as possible itself. Owner Dominic Parker: “We operate on a contract where the processor covers all aspects of feed, day old chicks, catching and veterinarian services. That gives us the possibility to be as focused as possible on the on-farm processes. Producing as cheap as possible, that is the way forward.”
Driving up to Hooks Drove, in the low lands of East Anglia, the scale of the farm catches the eye. Almost the whole plot of land is taken up by 8 huge poultry sheds. Each measuring 21 meters wide and 104 meters in length. One of the things that makes them different to most other houses in Britain are the many roof mounted inlet (28) and exhaust (22) stacks. “These are an integral part of the Danish DACS ventilation system,” says Robin Spooner of BPS poultry equipment. From the outset to design; ventilation, heating and automation should all be efficient. Spooner: “On a total investment of a farm only 3-4% is made up by ventilation equipment. However, in day to day running cost it counts for the majority of costs. So it makes sense to buy the best and most efficient equipment there is.”
That said, farm owner Parker wasn’t an easy person to convince. “Before investing in something other than standard, I wanted to see the system run for myself,” states Parker. He ventured out across Europe and found a similar system running in Romania. “I wanted to see heavy chickens in a hot climate. What I saw there, really opened my eyes. Even in suboptimal management conditions the system, which incorporates not only ventilation, but also heating and the monitoring of all other critical parameters from CO2 and humidity to feed and water consumption, produced really good quality broilers.”
The centrepiece of the DACS system is the so called ACS computer interface. This manages the climate, feed and water parameters, essentially with standard settings, but with the possibility to run farm specific programs as well. The system plots all data from minute to minute and ties together this ‘big data’ on demand so the owner and farm manager can compare sheds, flocks and even other farms. Spooner: “By doing so, we can have an objective discussion on our day to day operation. Stockmanship and human intelligence is important, but it is backed up by hard data.”
Hooks Drove’s farm manager, Jamy, pays extra attention to the relative humidity. He is able to do so through the Add-air system which pre-warms outside air and dehumidifies it, on this day from 91% outside to 64% inside.
“This system enables us to keep the litter dry in all circumstances. That has a positive effect on the birds, prevents pododermatitis and hock burns. Also the dry litter can be sold with a profit to a biomass energy facility.” The main ventilation is run via the roof inlets and exhausts. A special corona design of the inlets mixes outside air with the warm air high in the house and saves energy that way. In extreme warm weather the system can ventilate from the top, right down to in between the birds by directing the airflow downward, creating climate zones of 20×20 meters under each inlet. Spooner: “In essence, the system can do without fans for tunnel ventilation, which only ventilate over the top of the birds. That said, as an extra, we have installed two Magfans at the far end of the house anyway. This gives us maximum capacity for all circumstances.”
With feed, chicks and veterinary service under contract by the processor, all the difference is made on farm. Parker: “With our processor we have the agreement that we state all our production results, as do all other farms. In our pool of 56 farms, we can compare where we stand. As said, we started our farm with the primary aim to be in the top percentage. And from 2014 onwards this facility has done exactly what we set out to do.” The European production factor (EPF) of Hooks Drove is 364.81 and 21 points above the competitive set. Parker is proud to produce within the top 6 farms of the set. “That is reached by using hardly any antibiotic treatments and within UK guidelines with a maximum stocking density of 38 kilos.”
The owner has managed to run 8 crops per year with 40% thinning at day 30 at 2 kilogrammes live weight and final catching on day 35 at 2.4 kilos. A short turnaround time of only 1 week between catching the first shed, cleaning and disinfection and restocking the last house, makes all the difference. “Smart layout and uniformity of buildings and processes makes that possible. However, with 2 days of catching and 2 days of placing the 520,000 birds, cleaning and disinfection need to be organised efficiently as well.”
Dominic Parker (49), the son of a poultry farmer, was trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and had a career as a cavalry officer, before going back to his roots. After inheriting his father’s farm he invested in multiple poultry enterprises, Hooks Drove poultry farm being one of the most recent projects.