Sustainable approaches to poultry farming

As editor and founder of Poultry.Network, Jake Davies shares insights on how the poultry sector is performing, and how it is innovating for the future.

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“I like the poultry sector because it’s very entrepreneurial – there are always new technologies and farming methods being introduced. It also seems very good at overcoming challenges and adapting.”

What is Poultry.Network’s purpose?

“Essentially it’s to inform people working in the UK’s poultry supply chain, from farmers right up to the owners of the bigger egg packers and poultry meat processors, as well as retailers and the companies that sell products and services into the sector.

“Crucially we run a sustainability hub, which is supported by different sponsors in the poultry industry. It gives us a chance to examine and showcase green issues such as carbon-neutral projects – it’s a big focus for us.”

Please explain some more

“One recent project was a survey of our readership asking about their attitudes to sustainability. We’re still going through the results but it’s clear that farmers are struggling with profitability at present. There’s huge cost inflation for both chicken and laying hen farmers.  

“In the longer term, our survey suggests that at the farm level people are currently focused on that profitability problem. But at the company level there’s a lot of interest and investment in the poultry sector’s move to net zero.”

What does the poultry industry think about sustainability opportunities and challenges?

“The starting point is that both poultry meat and eggs are very efficient proteins for people, especially when compared with other livestock. They convert feed into meat or eggs very efficiently – more so as time goes on, thanks to innovations in breeding.

“Egg farming is the first livestock sector I’m aware of that has introduced net-zero lines onto the shelves. The opportunity is to make feed a more sustainable supply chain, especially replacing soy – but there’s a huge amount of work into deciding how this should be done.

“The other big consideration is energy, and the sector has been investing heavily in renewables.

“One of our Sustainability Hub Partners, Moy Park, recently unveiled a ‘blueprint’ net-zero broiler farm. It has achieved that by installing ground source heat pumps to generate heating, heat exchanger systems to reduce overall heat usage, and solar technology capable of generating 1MW of electricity, which works in tandem with lithium battery storage.”

What more support does the industry need to become sustainable? What’s top of your wish list?

“Given the UK net-zero targets are legally binding for 2050 it’s something that people need to be thinking about.

“And people might say: ‘Well, how? I hardly make any money at the moment. And why should I think about or invest in net-zero now?’ Well, it's a chicken or egg problem, isn't it? I think the opportunity is there to improve the resilience of the business through the journey to net zero.

“For example, if you can move from using gas – which has rocketed in price – to renewable energy generated on your farm, you become more resilient as a business. It’s the same with most inputs.

“Emerging technology is going to be massive in the next few years, and I’d like to see more. There are lots of quite exciting companies now developing systems that can predict illness in birds before it happens or can monitor the growth and wellbeing of birds through cameras. There are already robots in some sheds moving between birds and monitoring their health. And I think the opportunities for artificial intelligence to interpret all this data are huge.

“All in all, it's a very progressive sector. And if something works, people use it and invest in it and get a return from it.”

So what came first: chicken or egg?

“The Poultry.Network’s motto is 'Pullem Vel Ovum’, which is very basic Latin asking just that question! It was, of course, the egg.” 


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