A Shropshire chicken farmer has become the biggest ever to join Aviagen’s Ross 400 Club, which recognises top performance.
Charlie Simpson, who farms at Lower Heath Farm, Whitchurch, Shropshire, averaged a European Production Efficiency Factor (EPEF) of 403 across his latest crop of 542,000 birds, putting him among the crème de la crème of poultry producers.
Having worked closely with his vet to improve bird health over the past three years, he has also slashed his antibiotic usage by 70-80%, and is now reaping the rewards of high growth rates, good feed conversion and low mortality – the key elements behind the EPEF formula.
Mr Simpson operates an all-in, all-out system, with the Ross 308 birds being thinned at 32-33 days and cleared at 37-38 days. Over a number of years he has built the farm up to 15 computer-controlled sheds, and pays particular attention to general hygiene and efficiency.
“We always trial something on half the houses, so we can really evaluate the benefits before rolling it out across the farm,” he says.
Top tips to improve bird health and productivity
- Communicate with your vet about problem areas
- Look at prevention rather than cure
- Act to support birds during critical periods
- Adopt a tailored approach to your farm and individual sheds
“If you can get the birds off to a good start it’s a great help. We know that if there’s going to be a problem with upset guts it will be at around three to three-and-a-half weeks of age when everything is changing, so the stronger and healthier the birds are at that age the better they’re going to come through it.”
Mr Simpson has been working closely with the St David’s Poultry Team since 2012 when the farm had a Gumboro problem and needed to improve the vaccine programme.
In addition, St David’s vet Suzy Ackerley suggested feeding Salivet – a natural anti-inflammatory – at about three weeks of age to support the birds’ intestinal health.
“At this time the birds are undergoing a feed change, being vaccinated against Gumboro disease and also going through their optimum growth phase,” she says.
“Unfortunately, this combination means intestinal health can suffer; Salivet helps to support the birds during this critical period. We trialled it on six of the 15 houses and the performance benefits mean we’ve now rolled it out across the whole site.”
Mr Simpson also uses an Liquid Mineral Services automated dosing system to improve the water sanitisation.
“Water hygiene is often overlooked,” he says. The system requires daily monitoring of the water pH and oxidation reduction potential (ORP), and he adds chlorine and acids to remove bacteria, with short chain fatty acids to aid gut health.
General shed hygiene is of course vital, as is using the best quality feed. “It’s really a combination of everything pulling together,” says Mr Simpson. “There’s no doubt that the industry is pushing for a reduction in antibiotic usage and we’re keen to get on with it. It’s all about prevention rather than cure.”
Never one to rest on his laurels, he is now trialling adding beneficial bacteria to the feed, to further improve gut health.
Where a house’s performance drops off, or antibiotic use is raised, Mr Simpson adds Clostat (Bacillus subtilis) and protected butyric acid to the feed using an on-farm applicator which avoids the need to pre-mix it at the mill.
According to Miss Ackerly, this is proven to improve intestinal villi length and health, and destroy the Clostridium perfringens bacteria, which can lead to necrotic enteritis, intestinal disease and immune suppression.
By proactively boosting bird health, productivity is lifted and antibiotic usage cut in the current flock, as well as creating a knock-on effect for subsequent flocks, she adds. “The more healthy flocks you have the lower the disease burden on site, so the beneficial effect keeps snowballing.”
Ross 400 Club
Achieving an EPEF of 403 is an exceptional achievement, says Glenn Bushell from Aviagen.
“It is a combination of great chick quality, feed and management of the birds. What makes Charlie’s achievement even more special is the sheer number of birds placed. The average chick placement for 400 Club members is 150,000, Charlie placed 541,430 chicks which is the greatest number to average a 400 EPEF or more.”
Having worked to improve performance for a number of years, Mr Simpson says he is delighted to have joined the 400 Club. “When you have 15 sheds, reaching such a high average is difficult because you usually have a shed or two with sub-average chicks or other limitations. It’s been a long time coming – I’m just very proud to have got there.”