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FLOCK FOCUS: Part 2, The Ranger

Source: First published in The Ranger on 3 June, 2017.

In part two of our series, Flock Focus, we re-join the Powell family in their first year of egg production, with the birds now in lay at their new free range set up in Mid Wales.

Our last visit to Fred's farm saw 32,000 16 week old pullets being put into their new Big Dutchman shed.

Our last visit to Fred's farm saw 32,000 16 week old pullets being put into their new Big Dutchman shed.

Our last visit to Fred’s farm saw 32,000 16 week old pullets being put into their new Big Dutchman shed. Now at 26 weeks, egg production is well underway.

“With the pullets having been raised for the conditions of the shed, such as the multi- tiered set up, they have settled in very quickly and without stress. They had three weeks indoors initially due to AI, then from 20 weeks we opened the pop holes,” says Fred.

Increasing bodyweight

“Fred’s pullets were all at or above target weights for the Lohmann Brown at 16 weeks and again at point of lay”, explains Charles Macleod, Humphrey’s Rearing Director. “This has a positive influence on egg weights, as Fred is aiming for a consistent 64g”.

Experienced farmers, but new to poultry, the family has been on a steep learning curve, but good advice has always been close at hand.

“We have family already in the poultry business,” says Fred’s oldest son Will, 23, “and Gwenda Wozencraft, Humphrey Feed and Pullet’s technical advisor for Wales, lives nearby and calls in once a week and is always happy to respond to a request for advice.”

Start right

With all members of the family involved, from parents Fred and Janet to sons Will, Sam and Rob, the family are particularly keen to start out as they mean to go on.

“If you get things right from the start, it should be easier to manage,” says Will, and that was a principle that guided their choice to house their birds in a 130 metre, Big Dutchman multi-tier system. “We wanted to start off well with the best technology and Big Dutchmen sheds are highly recommended by those in the industry we already know. I’m sure we’ve made the right decision.”

The advanced technology in the shed allows ‘fingertip control’ of many of the factors that influence bird welfare and egg production.

“Both ventilation and temperature are controlled automatically with levels synchronized to outside conditions,” says Will. “Lighting, which we know is crucial to establishing correct laying behaviour, has been built up gradually in time and intensity and now is at 97 lux for 15 hours. We have had a lot help from Gwenda to get this right and it is now programmed to wake the birds slowly, encouraging them to get up, drink and then lay their egg. At night we fade the lights gradually, giving them a twilight period in which to get back up onto the system to roost. Gwenda's attention to detail has made a significant and positive difference”

Shed management

With so many technical refinements taking place, the family have decided that one person should take on the overall management of the shed.

“We are all still very much involved,” explains Will, “but I now oversee all that is going on in the shed and implement any changes that are needed. It gives better continuity for the birds.”

This means Will is in charge of collecting data with water, feed and house temperatures all being recorded as part of the Big Dutchman system. All eggs are counted, including second and floor eggs, and totals are recorded and assessed. Oaklands collect the eggs three times a week. Any day-to-day adjustments are agreed by Will and Gwenda together.

For Gwenda, who presently visits once a week, it means she talks to one person who has full technical responsibility - and it is a system that has worked well.

“It means that there is no confusion about any actions taken,” says Gwenda. “And I have to say that Will has absorbed so much information very quickly. As we have suggested, he is in the house when the birds wake up, managing the lights, working with the birds, seeing what needs to be done: this all gets them used to his presence.”

The benefits of the family’s attention to detail can be seen in their excellent results: “System eggs have been really impressive,” says Gwenda, “levels of production are at 96.6% with floor eggs just below 1% and the house is always clean and fresh.”

The benefit of putting the work in, especially at the beginning, is something that Will has proved to himself: “At around five weeks I left it just an extra hour before going in to walk the house and was penalised with ten floor eggs,” he says. “There really is no substitute for hard work.”

Follow @HumphreyFarms on twitter to find out more.

Click here to read Part 1 of the Flock Focus