In our new series, we follow the progress of Welsh farmers Fred & Janet Powell over the course of 2017 as they and their family undertake a new venture - becoming free range egg producers.
First-time farmer is not a title you would naturally associate with Fred Powell, a third generation famer from Llandrindod Wells. He and his wife Janet, assisted by their sons Will (23), Sam (21) and Rob (17), farm sheep, beef and more recently renewable energy on their family farm.
Fred explains why he has invested in the free range egg sector. “I have three boys that all wanted to come home and farm. I started thinking about what else we could produce here, using the strong and ambitious family workforce”.
“Our location didn’t work for broilers, so our next consideration was eggs” added Fred.
They found expert advice from Gwenda Wozencraft, based just a few miles from the Powell’s farm. Gwenda is Humphrey Feeds and Pullets’ technical advisor for Wales. Gwenda’s experience of free range egg production has guided many of the decisions made around the project and is keenly recognised by Fred. “We set out to do this independently, but Gwenda’s help has been invaluable. Both our pullets and feed are supplied by Humphreys.”
Choosing the right housing system
After extensive research both in the UK and Europe, the Powell’s opted for a 130 meter long house for 32,000 birds. Work started on the shed in October, and was completed in February.
Fred’s eldest son Will travelled to Holland to research the most up to date poultry housing systems. “In the end we chose the Big Dutchman Natura 264 multi-tier system, as it allows birds to move and roost freely, which is good for welfare. The Colony 2+ nests have a tilting floor that closes the nest after laying, with a smooth roll-off for eggs to the egg belt. The objective being to keep the eggs cleaner and limit the likelihood of hair-line cracks. These nests should hopefully also reduce system eggs as much as possible; which we aim to be under 1%. Lighting levels are adjustable, as is temperature, all at the touch of a button.”
“I’ve chosen the Lohmann Brown, as they are known for having a stable temperament, and consistent egg laying performance” says Fred. “Humphrey Pullets have reared 32,000 birds ready for optimum egg production in this sheds specific conditions, and they’ve had erysipelas vaccinations as the infection is prevalent here in Wales”.
“Good stockmanship and attention to detail is key to successful pullet rearing” explains Charles MacLeod, Rearing Director at Humphrey Pullets. “All our rearing farms operate as single age sites, ensuring that they can be cleaned thoroughly and set up to receive the next intake of chicks, giving them the best possible start.”
Fred’s birds were hatched on the 2nd November 2016 at the Millennium Hatchery in Warwickshire, and the chicks transported and placed on the same day to make sure they have rapid access to feed and water - vital to good early growth rates.
The chicks are pre-vaccinated in the hatchery so they can be efficiently placed in the pre-heated rearing accommodation in the New Forest. Delivered numbers are checked and the chicks are tipped onto a crumb ration laid out on 5 day paper. Supplementary water is provided in pans, and nipple lines are adjusted to attract the chicks. Temperature is maintained to encourage chick mobility, and regular inspections ensure that all chicks are feeding and drinking. A sample of chicks are weighed, and beak treatment checked and recorded.
Ramps are provided to encourage the birds to explore their multi-tiered environment, and make use of the feed and water provided on these raised levels. Bright, even lighting encourages early activity; with brightness and hours reduced gradually to 10 hours of lighting experienced by the flock at 35 days of age, and through to transfer.
“Maintaining a good atmosphere in the brooding house is vital even if this means reducing the temperature and encouraging a higher feed intake. A higher intake of mash encourages crop development and ensures a heavy robust pullet is produced. Our focus is on quality and uniformity” says Charles. “The birds also receive the necessary vaccinations and are always wormed prior to being inspected by our vets before leaving the site.”
The big day
Charles and Gwenda are on site to help unload the two HGVs that arrived at Fred Powell’s farm in Powys, each containing 16,000 pullets.
Charles explains: “We loaded up the pullets last night at the rearing shed in the New Forest and travelled to Wales overnight. It’s satisfying to see the birds arriving here so fit and healthy after their journey”.
“The unloading process is key to settling the birds in with minimum stress. They received electrolytes before travel, but we want to encourage them feeding and drinking quickly now in their new house” says Gwenda, who has worked closely with Fred and kept him up to date on his pullets’ progress in rear. “It’ll take around two hours to unload the pullets, as we have a few hands on deck here, and I’ll come back this evening to help any birds that need to be put up on to the system. There’s been a lot of work put in to get to this point, so I’m really pleased to see the birds in the shed”.
Next month we find out how the Powells are using technology and data in their egg production.
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