Another great performance for Ben Edkins' third Hy-Line flock

Another great performance for Ben Edkins' third Hy-Line flock

Published: 19 March 2019

The family has put up a 16K Vencomatic multi-tier unit, supplying Oaklands Farm Eggs. They get their pullets from Potters Poultry and feed from Wynnstay. Steve Marriott, Technical Services advisor at Hy-Line, was pleased to tell the Ranger that at 49 weeks, their current flock is at 95% production, having only lost 89 birds. With a new shed coming into production in April, Ben is hopeful for the future of their farm and his family's business.

Welsh re-location

Ben grew up on a farm in Warwickshire, with his brother Gordon and his parents Nigel and Mary. "They've farmed all their lives but took up the opportunity to manage a holiday complex near Aberaron in 1970's. They later ended up buying the business and ran it alongside a rented farm." They added to their tourism portfolio with a hotel popular for weddings. "I received a sports scholarship to Malvern College and played cricket for Wales. Unfortunately I didn't quite have what it takes to go professional, so I returned home after completing college. And I was tasked with managing the hotel bar and restaurant, as well as helping out on the farm and a small farm contracting business we set up."

However, with farming in their blood they decided they wanted to get back to their roots. "12 years ago we sold the holiday complex and hotel, buying the 227 acres we were sitting tenants of. There were 200 suckler cows, which we've bought down to 120. They are Limousin, Hereford or Angus all to a Charolais bull, with the calves sold as yearlings." They also have 240 breeding ewes, which lamb in January and March before the offspring are fattened and sold to a local slaughterhouse.

Ben and his brother had been working on the farm but Gordon decided to move on six years ago. "This was when I took over running the farm. The main reason that we started looking at poultry, was that the farm is in an intermediate TB area and we had been hit hard - leaving us with no income. So getting into egg production gave our farming enterprise a focus and secured our future on the land."

New build

The Edkins chose to put up Powells multi-tier house for 16K birds and had a Veranda Avairy system installed from Vencomatic. "We did a lot of research, visiting 10 or 12 farmers in North Wales, looking at different housing systems. Our choice was based on what we felt would make it easiest to manage the birds. Less labour required and less system eggs." In fact they were one of the first Welsh producers to install the system, that now 1M birds in the UK have been placed on.

The ventilation system was from Hotraco Agri with four fans in the roof, two in the gable end and side inlets - a negative pressure system. "Monitoring production parameters is important for efficiency so we bought an Orion system, which monitors feed and water consumption. The system also has alarms to alert us to power outages or if feed runs out." A siren on the shed sounds and alerts are sent to our mobile phones, which helps to protect the welfare of the birds and well as laying performance.

"We've been keeping Hy-Line Brown hens, which have worked very well for us. It is great that Steve Marriott is always at end of the phone and ready to offer help; particularly when we are new to the game." Steve replied that Ben and Meryl are,  "very nice people, and clearly from the production results; their husbandry and management is first class. It's a pleasure to work with them, as part of the team along with Potters and Wynnstay." The Edkins buy their pullets from Potters Poultry, where they are reared on a Premium Aviary system. "Both Pauline Jones from Potters and Jim Turner at Wynnstay, where we buy our layers mash, have been very helpful and supportive."

Out and about

The hens have 20 acres of pasture in which to roam. "An established wood surrounds the range, the trees over hang the fencing, offering shelter and shade. We have started planting native tree species and put up shelters that we regularly move around. The hens also love picking through the rushes, which grow on the range, for insects." They offer shelter but Ben tops them three to four times a year to discourage wildfowl. "We've been very pleased to see how well the birds range, when you walk round in the afternoon there are between 8-10K of them out." A stone border helps with drainage and to clean the hen's feet. "We turn it regularly as well as topping up the level."

Ben recruits 10 locals at turnaround to help muck out the shed, before a contractor carries out the cleaning and disinfection. "We allow three weeks overall so that the fans can be used ensure the shed dries out fully before the next flock goes in."

Health

The Edkins have had two very successful Hy-Line flocks with no need to medicate. Ian Jones of Hafren Veterinary Group has worked with them on their poultry health plan. "He's offered us great advice but we are lucky that there isn't much poultry in the area. There is one small unit about five miles away, then the next closest is 20 miles away near Aberystwth." However, they take biosecurity very seriously, all vehicles have to spray their wheels before entering the unit, as well as a series of foot dips before entering the shed.

Performance experience

"In our first flock we had a problem with wet litter so we looked for a solution. There were also a lot of problems with blockages in the lines, the water looked dirty and I was flushing it all the time." These issues led Ben to investigate probiotic solutions with Aled Davies, who runs Pruex. "He has been very helpful and we are now putting a source of beneficial bacteria (PIP water plus) into the water. I top up the system at night and the Dosetron adds it at 1% all day." They have found that the drinker nipples and cups are noticeably cleaner. "The water looks so clean you wouldn't believe it! As well as the water additive, we also use a probiotic spray for the shed. This combination had meant that the litter stayed dry, clean and odour free. The birds are healthier and mortality lower. It's clearly keeping the balance of microflora right in the birds and no antibiotic treatment has been required." Although it's an extra job, believes it's worth the effort and he's only had to flush the drinker lines once.

"We also use the PIP animal housing cleaner (a stabilised probiotic), at the last turnaround, after disinfection and rinsing. Then I put PIP animal housing stabiliser into a knapsack sprayer and spray the house every four days. There is no risk to of harm to the birds or us and it really helps to keep the litter dry. We also use the Dosetron to add Caltec to the water supply, from 50 weeks when needed, to supply extra calcium."

Performance of last flock

Parameter

Value

Flock size

16K

Breed

Hy-Line Brown

Flock age

72

Peak lay

97% @ 28 weeks

Persistency

93% @ 60 weeks and 88% @ 70 weeks

Eggs per hen housed

342

Mortality

3%

Feed intake

123 to 124 g per bird

Body weight

1848 g at 30 weeks

Egg weight

63.4g at 32 weeks

Floor eggs

Less than 1%

Seconds

0.25%

"We keep diaries of everything of everything and the results clearly show our last hens were an amazing flock of Hy-Line Brown hens. They peaked at 97% and held at that level of performance for 15 weeks, which was lovely." Omead Serati, Managing Director of Hy-Line, explained how delighted the company is that Ben and Meryl are consistently achieving such good results with their Hy-Line Brown hens.  "They have delivered some very impressive results, which is testament to their good husbandry.  We have seen the Hy-Line brown increase in market share across the globe due to it's all round class leading performance, including its unbeatable feather cover and having the best liveability on the market."

This achievement led them to be nominated for the National Egg and Poultry awards by Wynnstay. "We were shortlisted and got down to last three finalists. This meant that we were invited to attend the awards and although we didn't win it was a great opportunity to find out what's going on in the industry."

Welsh egg

Ben negotiated a contract with Oakland Farm Eggs before applying for planning permission. "It was important to us that our eggs were sold as Welsh, as well as being Lion code and RSPCA assured. They are a great Welsh company; Elwyn Griffiths has been very helpful and supported us through the planning process. I'm extremely grateful for everything he's done for us." Oakland Eggs supply major supermarkets in Wales, as well as local retailers. "We visited their packing centre and were amazed to see how it only takes them 10 minutes to grade and pack 14 pallets. There was a full report of the eggs in our hands within 30 minutes!"

Family futures

Ben's wife Meryl is an important member of the business, particularly after finishing teaching. "She had been a PE teacher for 12 years but now works with me in the laying house, as well as managing the sheep production. If she had sports matches after school, it meant she hardly saw Owen (7) and Cerys (4) - so she's really enjoying spending more time with the family."

Ben's parents have been very supportive of their new venture and although slowing down, are still involved on the farm. "Dad packs with Meryl and myself most days as he still likes to be hands on. Apart from us there is a full time tractor driver, who also works with the cattle." They are currently in the process of putting up a new shed. "The concrete was poured in November and Vencomatic completed the installation this month. We thought we'd expand while we could still get planning and extend our contract with Oakland on the same terms. As well as Meryl wanting to be more involved."

They have opted for the same set-up as in the original shed but did find it harder to get planning permission this time around. "There were ammonia testing, newt and badger surveys, which added to the cost and paperwork." Ben has no plans for diversification as they have plenty to keep them busy. "In fact we are going to cut back on cattle to focus on the hens. I'd rather do a few things well rather than spread ourselves too thin and do a poor job in all areas - quality over quantity!" Ben and Meryl are getting Owen and Cerys involved in the family business early. "Owen loves helping with the egg packing and walking the shed with us. And Cerys already knows how all the controls work. Our aim is to develop a viable and sustainable business so that they have a future in farming if they want it."