26 April 1996

Rule-change headaches for seasonal producers

Our Poultry Special looks at the latest research, and the prospects for ostrich farming. But first Robert Davies finds out whether a seasonal poultry enterprise is still worthwhile

THERE is probably no such thing as a typical small, seasonal poultry production unit, though strictly enforced environmental health and welfare codes are encouraging more uniformity. But regulations and fierce competition from big producers have forced many small producers out of business.

For those who remain, there is still demand from those prepared to pay a premium for birds reared traditionally, if they are identified as such by retailers, or can be collected personally from farms.

Margaret and John Dalton, whose Dyfed beef and sheep farm is featured in farmers weeklys Management Matters, have experience of both sides of the poultry business. Until five years ago they sold 250 large chickens a week and 2000 turkeys at Christmas. Now ewes are lambed in the sheds and production is limited to about 1650 turkeys, chickens and ducks at Christmas, and 110 ducks and chickens at Easter.

"If we did not have written-off buildings from the days of larger-scale production, an approved farm abattoir, and long-standing, loyal customers we would probably give up the poultry," Mrs Dalton says. "Ever-changing regulations are the main headache. Because presentation is important, we electrically pre-stun and bleed birds, rather than pulling their necks. This means I have to take regular tests to be licensed.

"Our whole system is checked every year by food hygiene and welfare officers and we can be closed down if we contravene the mass of legislation covering poultry. As birds must be killed and dressed over a few days, labour is a nightmare. Many skilled casual workers have disappeared, and people who are available do not want to process poultry."

To process the relatively small number of birds reared at Gelli Garneddau near Lampeter for last Christmas 20 different workers had to be used. Total labour bill for slaughter and dressing was £2000, or £2.17 a bird, excluding the partners input. The six-week-old turkey chicks and day-old chickens cost £2678 and the ducks £191. The range of feeds used added £4000 to the cost total.

Sales amounted to £12,000, generating a profit of £4 a bird over the whole crop after deducting costs excluding the Daltons labour, charges against the buildings and equipment, and bedding.

Mrs Daltons advice for would-be producers is to first check on the cost of complying with the regulations involved in using existing sheds. Building new ones would be totally uneconomic, she says. Then she suggests finding out who else is producing and marketing farm-fresh birds in the area, and to arrange outlets in advance. &#42


&#8226 Check cost of complying with health and welfare rules.

&#8226 Annual food hygiene checks.

&#8226 Shortage of skilled casual labour.

Seasonal poultry – ever-changing regulations are the main headache.