Farmers Weekly Awards 2023: Poultry Farmer of the Year

Nigel Edwards of Whittal Poultry, Court Barns, Herefordshire, is the 2023 Farmers Weekly Poultry Farmer of the Year.

Broiler production is renowned for its technical advances – from climate control to data management systems. But this is still no replacement for a watchful eye, a wealth of experience and outstanding stockmanship.

These are the features that make Nigel Edwards stand out from the crowd as he helps Whittal Poultry in Herefordshire achieve such outstanding results from its 208,000-bird unit in the west of the county.

See also: The 2023 Farmers Weekly Awards shortlist

Farm facts

  • 400ha of arable land, producing cereals and oilseeds
  • Grass seed growing and processing business
  • State-of-the-art poultry sheds growing Red Tractor broilers for Avara
  • Home-grown wheat used to supplement broiler diets
  • Emphasis on renewable energy

The sheds were put up by business owner Philip Whittal as an alternative to free-range egg production in 2019, becoming one of the last in the recent spate of “new builds” in the Herefordshire area.

Finding the right man to run the operation was crucial and, after a couple of “false starts”, it was Nigel who came on board – and there has been no looking back.

The two work in close partnership, but while Philip still does a shift as “stand in” broiler manager when needed, it is Nigel who “steers the ship”, sourcing day-to-day inputs, liaising with contractors, and co-ordinating things like feed delivery and turnaround.

“We discuss margins after every crop and always try to work out how we can do things better,” says Nigel, who benefits from a ­profit-share arrangement.

Indeed, thanks to top technical performance, tight cost control and a healthy renewable heat incentive, the business is generating a healthy profit and is ahead of target to pay off the start-up loan.

The four large sheds are kitted out to maximise efficiency – with underfloor heating and two ground-source heat pumps to keep the air at the required temperature.

Key parameters, such as air temperature, feed and water consumption, are carefully monitored on a fully computerised system, but Nigel is adamant that such data can only achieve so much.

“I have the technology to control everything, but I prefer to see, hear and smell what’s going on, and will happily override the computer if necessary.”

Good gut health is a priority, which is helped by paying meticulous attention to clean water. Nigel is also reluctant to offer too much feed too early.

“I’m not looking for early growth,” he says, while taking pride in a feed conversion ratio of 1.49.

It is no coincidence that Nigel has achieved 10 successive European Production Efficiency Factor (EPEF) scores above 420.

The whole unit has been developed with an eye on environmental protection and minimising waste.

Trees have been planted to provide screening, and rainwater run-off is directed to a reed pond to slow flows and absorb nutrients.

Another innovation has been the use of screenings from the Whittal’s grass seed business as a novel, recycled bedding material – another one of Nigel’s many bright ideas.

So far this has saved the business £30,000 in bedding costs.

Winning ways

  • Great attention to detail, derived from data readouts and close physical inspection of all that is going on in his sheds
  • A willingness to use new technology, but not to rely on it
  • Happy to try new things, but also prepared to learn from mistakes
  • Boundless energy and enthusiasm for the job

A word from our independent judge

“Nigel goes above and beyond. His unwavering commitment to bird welfare, exceptional prioritisation of biosecurity, and consistent dedication to sustainable and innovative farming practices means he has truly set the benchmark for excellence in British poultry.”

Kerry Maxwell, media manager, British Poultry Council

The Farmers Weekly 2023 Poultry Farmer of the Year Award is sponsored by Aviagen

The Farmers Weekly Awards celebrate the very best of British agriculture by recognising hard-working and innovative farmers across the UK.

Find out more about the Awards, the categories and sponsorship opportunities on our Awards website.

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