VIEWS

The Poultry Bulletin - - NORTHERN VIEWS - By Gineke Mons

This past year, slow­grow­ing broil­ers have made a re­mark­ably quick as­cent in the Dutch poul­try in­dus­try. As from 2016, all the ma­jor su­per­mar­kets have started re­plac­ing con­ven­tional poul­try meat with the slow-grow­ing va­ri­ety. Cur­rently, an es­ti­mated one-third of all poul­try meat in The Nether­lands comes from slow-grow­ing strains like the Hub­bard JA78.

And to the sur­prise of many in the in­dus­try, broiler farm­ers are trans­fer­ring along. Even though this means that in­stead of 20 to 22 broil­ers per square me­tre (and some­times even more), they can only have 17 chicks per square me­tre. In weight, this means 38 kg/m2, in con­trast to the reg­u­lar 42 kilo.

Farm­ers have to place ‘en­rich­ment ma­te­ri­als’ in the barn; one bale of straw per 1 000 broil­ers, so the chick­ens have some­thing to play with. Be­sides, farm­ers have to of­fer a nat­u­ral day and night scheme, with a min­i­mum of six hours of con­sec­u­tive dark­ness per night. Some re­tail­ers even de­mand that the broil­ers have day­light, which means re­plac­ing some roof pan­els with see-through-pan­els. The slow-grow­ing broil­ers are also more ac­tive and lively.

The Dutch poul­try in­te­gra­tions seek to en­sure that the farm­ers get the same in­come they had with con­ven­tional broil­ers. Ac­cord­ing to Plukon, one of the lead­ing in­te­gra­tions, most farm­ers do suc­ceed, or nearly, in earn­ing the same money.

But even if they earn a lit­tle less, no one is turn­ing back to reg­u­lar broil­ers. Why? Be­cause of the joy, the sat­is­fac­tion they get from work­ing with these chicks. Less broil­ers per square me­tre means that it’s eas­ier to walk through the barn to­wards the end of the cy­cle, eas­ier to check upon the flock. And the slower grow­ing chicks don’t need all their en­ergy to grow, so they’re less sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­eases. Av­er­age growth is lim­ited to 50 grams per day (con­ven­tional: 60 to 65 gr/ day); which also means that that cheaper feed can be used, with less pro­teins. But most ben­e­fi­cial, to both farm­ers and broil­ers: less dead an­i­mals. Among reg­u­lar broil­ers 3 to 3,5 per­cent mor­tal­ity is com­mon. With the slow grow­ing coun­ter­parts, the mor­tal­ity rate is be­low 2 per­cent. Hav­ing to pick up only 2 or 3 dead ones a day makes ev­ery­one hap­pier.

Some peo­ple in the in­dus­try are ir­ri­tated by the fact that the lo­cal an­i­mal wel­fare group Wakker Dier - which has been cam­paign­ing for years with ter­rier-like tenac­ity against the ‘plofhoen­der’ - seems to be dic­tat­ing what re­tail chains should put on the shelves. And Wakker Dier is not quite sat­is­fied yet, be­cause the slower grow­ing broil­ers’ life span is ex­tended by just a mea­gre seven days. They take 49 days to reach the re­quired 2,2 kg; con­ven­tional broil­ers take 41 tot 42 days.

But hey – the chicken gets a bet­ter qual­ity of life, with more space, less disease and bales of straw to jump on and to scratch the litter around. For the broiler grow­ers it means less labour - one less cy­cle per an­num, cheaper feed, less use of medicines, less ef­fort to walk through the barn and only a few dead ones per day. For more or less the same in­come. So I think the slow grow­ing broiler is here to stay. So far, we’re the only coun­try in North-west­ern Europe where this tran­si­tion process is tak­ing place. Neigh­bour­ing coun­tries are far more (low) cost-driven. But this de­vel­op­ment is ben­e­fi­cial not only for the broil­ers, but for the farm­ers as well. So I guess more coun­tries will fol­low suit.¡

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