21 April 1995

SMALL DELIVERY

MAN WHO CARES

EC livestock welfare legislation has led to a small time poultry breeder offering a delivery service a national carrier has abandoned. But can he succeed where the big boys fear to tread? Tessa Gates went to Powys to find out

POULTRY breeders used to rely on national carrier Amtrak to deliver live birds nationwide but EC legislation on feeding and watering has caused this service to be withdrawn. Graham Francis, a small scale Orpington breeder, is offering a delivery service that meets all legislation and welfare requirements, but the first six months have not been easy.

"I had hoped to get a network of vans operating but there has not been enough trade. At present we do a delivery run every 10 days or so," say Graham, of Penybontfawr, Powys.

His Penyceunant Poultry Delivery service has been well thought out and equipped and his van can carry 30 boxes.

"I have never had it full yet. To make the service viable I have to try to arrange collection and delivery to make a round trip and we try to explain to customers that we cant get to them immediately. We cant call at very out of the way places until we have other calls in that direction," explains Graham, adding that timing the delivery of adult birds is not as critical as with day-olds and hatching eggs, both of which Amtrak will still deliver.

Before kitting our his delivery van, Graham consulted the Poultry Club of Great Britain, the Wernlas Collection, MAFF, vets, and the animal welfare officer and trading standards officer at Newtown: "If you are going to do this then you have got to do it right," he explains.

"Ventilation was the main concern of the vets, and a roof vent the first requirement in the van. We added louvred side vents for a good flow of air and it works. No smells build up and there is little condensation." Boxes have to be individually secured to meet the legislation and each one is separated by a fixed baton on the van wall so that they stay apart and this aids air circulation. "We did consider providing cages but felt this would encourage airborne organisms to circulate," says Graham, who has impeccable hygiene standards.

A strong interior light ensures that poultry can see to feed and drink for an hour, as required for livestock in transit for more than 12 hours. Each bird is provided with an individual drinker during stops and this is sterilised before any other fowl uses it.

"During an average trip with a big carrier, birds would be loaded between several vans and have to wait at depots, all of which can be stressful eventually. My customers know their birds, some of which are quite valuable, are being looked after," says Graham.

In fact they are so well looked after than he even sleeps in the van with them if he is on a longish trip. "I have to carry black-out boards for the windows because at service areas where I tend to stop-over, the lighting is so bright the cocks crow all night. Its the only way anyone gets any sleep," he explains with a chuckle.

He charges £15 to deliver a box up to 250 miles and adds £5 for each additional 100 miles. His longest trip so far has included calls in East Anglia and Scotland.

He is hoping for a busy summer. The delivery service is not a major income provider yet for Graham and his wife who both left teaching jobs in Beds seven years ago to move to the pretty cottage at Penybontfawr.

They provide walking holidays, complete with tailored route maps, for guests who stay half-board in the two rooms they let and have produced a book of walks of north Wales that is about to be published.

Grahams interest in breeding Orpingtons is a hobby that pays for itself. "Showing is of no great significance to me – I like my chickens to free range as they breed better. I have shown the Black Orpingtons and had a few firsts in local shows and a trio came second in the Welsh National, but the others are basic breeding stock that I am trying to work on," he explains. He keeps Buff, White and Blue Orpingtons and is trying to breed back a bit of size into the Whites by crossing with a Buff and then breeding on to get the Buff "brassiness" out of the colouring again.

"Its a programme of impure birds for long-term aim," he says.

The success of the delivery service needs to be more immediate. "The next six months will give a pointer to how well the delivery service will do, as business should pick up as more growers use the service," says Graham, "but I cant see our original idea of a network ever being set up."

Penyceunant Poultry Delivery (0691-860459).