Mega-farms are in the news, so off the back of this article in The Guardian I thought it’d be good to share what goes into modern poultry farming and what we all get out of it. Ninety-five percent of the billion birds raised each year in UK are indoor reared. Indoor reared birds, on any size of farm, are in a controlled environment that is chock-full of technology. This provides the best setting for a science-based approach to bird health and bird welfare.
Before we get going, it’s important to recognise the nation’s love affair with poultry meat, and chicken in particular. It’s now around half the meat we eat in this country because it’s versatile, affordable, and trusted. While we haven’t quite cracked breakfast, it’s in the lunchboxes and on the dinner tables of over sixty million people; week-in week-out, all year round. Whether roasted or fried, in salads, sandwiches, or curries, chicken is our choice.
This popularity is a great responsibility, and underlines what all livestock keepers know: that the birds are the most valuable part of any farm. Their health and wellbeing while they’re growing will lead to a high quality product that people will enjoy, and ultimately to a good return to invest in future flocks.
Poultry houses are purpose-built with all the bells-and-whistles that farmers need to care for flocks that can number in the tens of thousands of birds. Looking at the basics of warmth, light, and food and drink we see where technology comes into its own. Computer controlled systems ensure the comfort of the birds through automatically adjusted ventilation and lighting. Large fans ensure an airspace that is clear with a balanced temperature, and lighting systems, including windows for natural light, give just the right combination of light with periods of darkness. Nutritionally optimised feed and fresh water are always available through automated systems. All the elements are monitored, checked, and reviewed multiple times every day, with alerts sent direct to farmers when something’s not quite right.
So we have the foundation of a farm: the birds with their needs met. Next we have to talk about people. The farmer remains the most important factor in caring for livestock. Her skills, expertise, and dedication to the husbandry of her birds means they’ll all have the best opportunity to grow well. An experienced farmer knows from the ‘feel’ within a shed (smells, sounds, movement) if everything is okay. Supporting every farmer is a network of skilled professionals: feed specialists, environmental consultants, commercial advisers, and of course, veterinarians.
Poultry vets are a specialised breed, so much so that there are only a handful of dedicated practices in the country. These vets work closely with farmers and companies to maintain the health of the national flock. Their work is so impressive that since 2012 we’ve seen production increase by 11% while the use of antibiotics has dropped by 82%. This is a factor of both the people involved with a mindset focused on improvement and productivity, and the successful environment that the birds grow in.
Science and technology in our field is not static, it is always moving forward, developing, and looking at new ideas. The farms currently being planned and constructed are being built with future-proofing in mind. We are using materials and techniques that will both last, and be able to accommodate new technology as it arrives. Everything from the optimum style of perches for birds inside the houses, to biomass burners that combust the litter to heat the houses. No detail is left unexamined, and it is in combining the results of this attention to every detail that creates such a good environment for the birds.
Outside the houses is just as important as we know that being a good neighbour – to people and the environment – is our responsibility. Everything going into or coming out of a farm is tightly regulated and controlled, whether it’s traffic, noise, odour, or just the visual presence of the farm. We do everything possible to minimise our impact and help farms fit in with their surroundings. For highly productive premises that deliver massive amounts of food to this country, their footprint, both physically and environmentally, is remarkably small.
We’re proud of what we do, and we love talking about it. Our people are leading the way in high standards of livestock production, and using science and technology that often the sector itself has helped create. But ultimately we’re here to feed as many people as possible, food that people can afford but they still know is of high quality. Everyone deserves to have confidence in where their food comes from and trust that it’s safe, wholesome, and nutritious. We do that, and it’s mega.