The UK poultry industry is constantly growing and adapting, and with continued development in the sector it’s important to keep up-to-date with where the industry is headed. Melanie Jenkins finds out what’s in store for 2018.
Growth in the poultry sector has soared in recent years, with UK poultry meat slaugtherings increasing by 4.63% between 2015 and 2016, to 1.08bn head. Consumption of eggs has also continued to rise, up 2% in the year to August 2017 to 12.8bn eggs, according to Defra statistics. In total, the UK produced 10.6bn eggs, with the retail value rising by 7% in the year to September 2017, to £972m.
With all this recorded growth, the industry is expanding to meet demand and producers need to keep ahead. Here we speak to exhibitors at the upcoming Pig & Poultry Fair to get a sense of demand their businesses face, and the trends driving innovation.
After last year’s multiple outbreaks of avian influenza, biosecurity measures are on the increase – especially on free range units, while producers from across the egg and broiler industries are implementing more measures to reduce antibiotic usage.
Broiler production is flying ahead, with domestic and overseas demand increasing. Equipment supplier LA Systems’ Andy Done says this year has been the busiest start, in terms of enquiries, for the past decade.
For 3 to 4 years, LA Systems’ sales to the egg industry have been quiet, says Mr Done. “Now, for the first time we are getting very serious enquiries from egg producers who are moving into alternative systems such as flat deck and multi-tier.” With the ban on enriched cage systems due to come into place in 2025, a number of farmers, especially those with higher bird numbers, are looking at adapting their systems in preparation.
Construction of new poultry buildings seems buoyant compared to last year, with enquiries coming in from both broiler and egg producers – but free-range units are in particular demand.
The current work is both healthy and manageable, says Paul Clarke, director at Clarke Group Construction. “We are seeing a steady flow of enquiries for the coming year, which is encouraging and a clear indicator that the industry is continuing with its sustainable economic growth.”
Paul Draper, managing director at DraperVent, has noticed increased investment in poultry sites over the past 2 years. “Not from owner growers but from investors who put up buildings and then rent them out to operators. These are not your traditional chicken farmers and a lot more sites are being rented.”
The past 12 months have seen predominantly new builds, according to Mr Done. “Quotations for new sheds have slowed down now but coming in behind that are orders for replacements or refurbishments, feeding systems and climate control.”
Knights Construction Group are also very busy and are set to get more so, especially across Wales, Kent and Lincolnshire, according to director, Doug Wellington. “It is swings and roundabouts for the busiest sector; last year it was free range, this year it is more broiler.
“There are a lot of new sheds planned, from broilers to breeders, free range and brooders. Last year we put up about 80-90 sheds and it looks to be a bit more this year,” he adds.
Location is still playing a significant part in construction, with Welsh hill farms looking to diversify into rearing or free-range, while in Wrexham there is a major broiler expansion anticipated, says Mr Wellington.
A lot of producers are looking into new systems, such as multi-tier, according to Tom Simpson, manufactured products manager at Harlow Bros. “The majority are enquiring about cage free or free-range as producers are starting to think about replacing caged units. There is a lot of expansion going on and confidence in the market, with free-range picking up and catching up with broilers.”
With confirmation from Red Tractor that all broiler units now need natural daylight, there have been a lot of enquiries to install windows into existing buildings, adds Mr Simpson.
Planning and environmental stumbling blocks are among the chief concerns from construction and installation companies, which perceive measures around both of these to be tightening up. “I think planning permission will be a lot harder to get with social media playing a big part (in driving opinion),” warns Mr Wellington.
Mr Done agrees that planning permission and environmental hurdles are becoming a major obstacle for the industry, with controls on ventilation becoming very precise. “This could cause some problems for expansion but we do have to look after the environment and I think technology and equipment which reduces emissions from poultry units are needed.”
With ever greater emphasis on optimal health and welfare, keeping sheds and systems clean is vital and companies are seeing an increase in the measures being implemented in both new builds and refurbishments. “There are a lot more bio-security measures being put in place,” says Mr Wellington. “Poultry Farmers across the board are looking into biosecurity, with AI being the major concern driving this forward.”
Last year Interhatch was very busy across both the broiler and egg sectors, says sales manager Warwick Grinnell. “A lot of our growth was from equipment sales such as washers, and on the nutritional side. New equipment is really all about focusing on automation.”
Vitamins, acids and water hygiene are all helping to reduce antibiotic usage, says Mr Grinnell. “Producers are always investing in the future in order to get better results from birds.”
Easy application of vitamins to feed is one of the latest innovations to come from Interhatch. The Easy At system automatically applies liquid vitamins to the feed track, and other products for water hygiene and new organic acids are also taking off. “Innovation is constantly improving and farmers are having to invest.”
With the increase in rented sites there is now a market for long-term contract renting of equipment, from climate control to flock management systems, according to Mr Draper. “We are looking at supplying equipment on a long-term contract including training and maintenance. This will mean sharing the risk over a longer period but is something that is normal practice in other industries. Rolled up with the energy costs, it means there is a fixed price to an operation, rather than the changing costs of repairing equipment.”
Installation of ventilation systems is just starting to warm up but is noticeably busier than last year, according to Brian Bourke, director at Maywick. “Avian influenza made things very difficult but business is more buoyant than last year. We expect 2018 to equal last year and anything more will be a bonus.”
Demand from the egg sector is also firm and Draper is launching a new layer ventilation side – DraperLayers – to meet demand, despite previously being predominantly broiler focused. It has also founded DraperBiotech to meet growing demand for specialist air and water purification systems.
And, although they are expensive, some producers are opting for new air scrubber systems, says Mr Wellington.
Recent changes to the Renewal Heat Incentive (RHI) were anticipated to slow investment in biomass boilers and other forms of renewable energy, but Mr Clarke has found this to not be the case. “Despite fluctuations and uncertainty with RHI tariffs, we are designing into current schemes a range of renewable technologies, including ground source heat pumps with under floor heating, PV solar arrays, rainwater harvesting, biomass with recycled timber and litter burning to provide heat.”
However, producers need to adapt to make biomass affordable, says Mr Draper. “The incentives meant that biomass boilers were installed based on a reduced fuel cost and this skewed things slightly as people were not worried about the fuel, but now they are. Fuels need to be cheap and sustainable, like miscanthus or poultry litter – or straw, when it is cheap.”
Ground source heating is replacing biomass in popularity, explains Mr Wellington. “And so is gas, as it is cheap at the moment.”
Mr Done believes that indirect heating systems are going to continue after RHI dies, as he says the cleaner air has a big impact on bird health and performance. “When boilers are more efficient at burning poultry litter, farms will be more self-sufficient. The days of direct heating poultry sheds are gone.”
Among the major technologies taking off right now are remote management systems, says Mr Done. “It is useful to keep an eye on the farm remotely. Information comes into a central office and managers can direct efforts to areas that are not performing. It is quite an investment but with the internet, even an independent farmer can do it.”
The outlook for the poultry industry is very busy and positive, adds Mr Wellington. “There is plenty of work for everyone and the whole industry is heading up and up.”
British Pig & Poultry Fair
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Author: Melanie Jenkins