Egg production in the United Arab Emirates is booming. The countries self-sufficiency rate is only 50%, giving local producers enough incentive to enlarge their output. World Poultry had the opportunity to visit Bin Hamoodah farm in Swihan in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, a layer operation that steadily increased the flock from 100,000 in 2010 to 600,000 in 2016. Focus on efficient production and innovation are key for this growth.
Meeting up with his supplier Zucami at the VIV MEA exhibition in Abu Dhabi, farm owner and Syrian native Hool Atalla was looking for new ideas to implement at his farm. He was just in the middle of constructing a new rearing house, with a novel building concept, and invited World Poultry to have a look. Drawing a map of the area, some 150 kilometres into the desert outside Abu Dhabi city, he would welcome us the next day at Bin Hamoodah layer farm.
Just outside the little town of Swihan, Atalla runs an impressive layer operation. “The last year alone we brought 10 new houses into production, adding 300,000 birds to our facility, doubling our business and all financed with our own revenue stream,” Hool Atalla says proudly. According to the owner the situation is now favourable. “When I first came to the emirates in 1989, I started my first farm in the town of Marat, with just one house. That business expanded over the years, but I was forced to terminate the business after 12 years because shortages of raw materials and good water wells.”
The current location he found and purchased in 2006, with seven existing houses with layers on the floor. “Within 3 years we changed the housing system to cages, increased production to 100,000 hens in 2010 and grew to 300,000 in 2013.” Investing in a good cage system, making all houses as uniform as possible vastly reduced cost price and made the farm less reliant on highly educated workers.
Atalla: “That said, we invest a lot in our workforce of 70 people. Besides taking care of the birds, the workers are involved in physically expanding the farm and building new houses as well.” During the farm visit in February some of the employees were tasked with helping to build the new rearing house. With fairly mild temperatures, just below 30°C, this is the ideal time of the year to get things done. “The new house is my own design,” says the owner. He continues: “Lightening the workload and reducing building costs are crucial. By using arches in the construction as load bearing structures I save at least 15% on steel costs. A smart layout will make the new house easier to work in and at 15 weeks of age, it will be easier to move the young hens to the layer houses.” These houses are situated a few hundred meters away from the rearing operation. “Our facility is fully enclosed by walls and fences and only accessible via one entrance road. That makes vehicle movement easy to monitor and gives us the opportunity to disinfect cars and trucks to guarantee a high biosecurity status within the farms premises.”
The whole facility is equipped with Zucami traditional cages for efficiency and ease of work.
[Photo: Fabian Brockotter]
Farm manager Al Masalma gets day old chicks from Saudi Arabia and rears the birds on farm. At 15 weeks the young hens are placed in the layer houses.
[Photo: Fabian Brockotter]
Due to the fact that the new rearing house isn’t finished, the farm isn’t able to run at full capacity yet. “On average we keep 9 birds per cage now, 31,000 per house, but when the new rearing house is online we are able to go to 11 and 35,000. That is what the houses are laid out for,” says farm manager Kamal Al Masalma.
At this time, part of the shortage in rearing capacity is compensated by keeping the birds longer in production. “We moved up from 80 to 90 and even longer when egg shell quality stays good and demand is sufficient.” In the spring, with outside temperatures around 25 to 30°C the farm is normally stocked to maximum density. In summer, when temperatures can soar to 50+, stocking density is lower at the multi-age farm by about 5%. Al Masalma: “That has nothing to do with the temperature on itself. With a padcooling system and a ventilation capacity of 0.5 million cubic meters per house per hour we can keep the in house temperature below a comfortable 32°C. The thing is that in summer egg consumption in the Emirates drops sharply, because many people leave for the 3 months of summer holidays.” During summer overall feed efficiency is somewhat lower due to heat and costs are higher because extreme ventilation measures and power usage. Egg prices tend to drop somewhat. “Luckily, on average the prices will stay at a level where our operation is still able to get sufficient margins.”
The eggs are sorted and packed on farm under the Al Mazra Egg brand. Most of the eggs stay on the local market via one distributor, but exports to neighbouring countries are possible as well. Atalla: “Local production is on the rise on our farm and others as well. However, self-sufficiency is only about 50% and growing with a forecasted 10%. Imports cover the rest of the market demand.” UAE’s egg producers have to compete with imports from all over the world, due to a maximum legal expiring date on eggs sold in the Emirates of 90 days, compared to 4 weeks in many other parts in the world. “Normally our only competitors would be Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but due to the long expiring date eggs can be shipped in from Ukraine, Brazil and North Western Europe as well. That means when there is an overproduction somewhere in the world, the eggs flow to us. Luckily we can still run a profitable business due to hard work, efficiency and the lack of transportation costs.”
Also interesting: Case Study: Challenges within UAE poultry sector
Keeping the costs of input low is a constant challenge. “All our feed has to come from overseas, as in Abu Dhabi nothing will grow. Feed is expensive, but luckily availability is no problem anymore.” Farm manager Al Masalma: “In close cooperation with a feed mill in Abu Dhabi we comprised 5 formulas for our operation, 1 starter, 1 grower 3 three layer feeds, pre-layer, peak and post peak. With special attention on protein levels and calcium levels we can keep costs at bay and ensure egg shell quality at the same time.”
Farm owner Atalla learned his lessons the hard way, when the water wells bottomed out on his first farm. “This farm has 4 good wells, which will last for approximately another 15 years.” As one can imagine, water is key in a desert poultry operation. The largest part of the water usage is for running the padcool system during the 9 hottest months of the year. Only one well is used for drinking water. “On its own the water’s salt content is too high, but after running it through our own desalination plant it is fit for drinking water purposes.” The entrepreneurial scope of Atalla has a horizon further than 15 years. “I am not going to put my operation at stake, and wait until the water runs out,” he states. Bin Hamoodah poultry farm has studied the possibilities to bring in water via a pipeline from neighbouring municipalities. “That will come at a price of course, but this farm has a longer life span than our water wells.”
With its latest expansion just realised and with the rearing house still in the building process, farm owner Atalla is already looking to the future. “At this time we have 20 houses in production, but that doesn’t fill our whole available land space within existing perimeters. I expect that we will look into further expansion in the near future. Capacity wise that is already calculated into the new rearing facility layout with 75,000 extra rearing capacity on top of the existing 50.000.”