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Challenges and opportunities for the broiler sector

Richard Jackson BVMS (Hons) MRCVS

The last few months have been tough across the broiler sector. The winter of 2021/2022 has seen the most Avian Influenza (AI) cases in the UK and Europe on record. Although there has only been one broiler case to date in the UK (April 2022), many broiler farms have found themselves in AI restriction zones leading to additional pre-slaughter inspection visits by vets and a reduction in the number of routine vet visits. As the number of AI cases begins to decrease, these routine visits should be possible again. It is unclear what next winter will bring but there will be no doubt opportunity in the coming months for industry and government to discuss lessons learned on both sides so that should we find ourselves in this position again, we are better prepared.

The war in Ukraine has added extra challenges to the broiler sector with the price of feed and gas rocketing. Whilst there has been some movement in the liveweight price, this has tended to be some time after the input costs have risen.

The opportunities

Despite the challenges, there is always opportunity and there are several success stories.

Feed Conversion Ratio

The Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) across the industry continues to improve and some farms are now in the low 1.4’s. This is a phenomenal achievement and helps demonstrate how our great industry can continue to reduce our carbon footprint whilst continuing to feed the nation. The breed companies assure us that a 1.3 FCR will be achievable in the near future. The increased focus on carbon footprint has meant that many consumers have switched their shop from red meat to white meat leaving demand strong and there is no reason why this trend shouldn’t continue.

The drive to improve bird welfare

Our industry has seen a continual drive on bird welfare with an increase in the number of Better Chicken Commitment birds being grown. The paradox with this is these slower growing birds have a greater carbon footprint and this will be an area for industry and the consumer to consider going forward.

Strides forward with antibiotic reduction

Our industry has rightly prided itself on the great work on antibiotic reduction that has been done. With this work continuing and the modern broiler becoming more efficient all the time, microbiome management is more crucial than ever. Part of this management will take the form of a more integrated approach to ‘farm health’ along with the use of new nutraceuticals that become available.

There are several trials across the industry (many of which our team have been involved with) looking at in-Ovo gumboro vaccination and on farm hatching to determine if these technologies increase health, welfare and performance KPI’s. In the coming months as an industry, we will have a better indication of the industry’s direction of travel.

Although 2022 has had a rocky start, I am confident that through science led innovation, we will continue to strengthen and grow as a sector.

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