FW Awards 2009: Poultry Farmer of the Year finalist – David Speller

Situated in 14 acres of landscaped grounds with extensive views of the Peak District National Park, this spacious, modern complex features heated floors, 24-hours a day dining and CCTV security.

It reads like a description of a five-star country hotel nestled in the Derbyshire dales. But in fact this is home to David Speller’s 180,000 broilers.

Back in 2004, David purchased a 1960s broiler farm and started growing broilers for Dove Valley, now Moy Park. He embarked upon poultry farming despite having no prior experience of poultry having spent five years in arable farming.

“I liked the idea of having a regular cash flow as I saw first hand how hard it can be with arable businesses with suppliers pushing for payment before harvest.

“I also had friends at the NFU and Grampian, so I knew what would be involved in rearing broilers. So I decided to have a go and I’ve enjoyed it from day one.”

He took on James on a part time basis who worked at the unit for the previous owner. Immediately, performance was good with his first flock being in the middle of Moy Park’s performance league table of all the growers supplying its Ashborne factory.

But there were some initial hiccups. “I had some bird losses through heat stress in the first summer and a rise in the gas price from 9p/litre to 16-17p/litre started to hurt the finances.”

So David made the bold decision take advantage of Moy Park’s finance scheme and invested £2.5m into a new, modern broiler site making full use of technology. He opted for four sheds housing 45,000 birds with under floor heating.

“The site is 1000ft above sea level, so we needed a facility that is efficient to heat. And during my degree at Harper Adams, I met people who had been working on Scandinavian pig farms who kept saying under floor heating was the way to do it.

“You need a warm floor for chicks and it doesn’t really matter about the air temperature. It seemed the right thing to do.”

It was a pioneering project being the first poultry unit in the UK to install this novel system. David found that most companies had no experience on this scale. In the end he opted for a firm that installed it at Doncaster Airport, a similar floor area as his unit.

Each shed has two 250,000 Btu gas boilers, one being a backup, heating water which is pumped through 11km (6.8 miles) of polyethylene piping.

“We did go over budget as it was such a new system, but I wouldn’t be without it as it is much better for my chicks.

“Seven day weights are consistently 10g higher than the Moy Park average and litter quality is excellent, being dry and friable.” Daily live weight gain is more than 60g.

He estimates that on current gas prices, it will pay back for itself within 5-6 years through benefits on bird weight and reduced energy use.

Looking to the future, he would like to develop the system further by capturing the heat given out by birds in the later stages of the cycle, storing it and then using it to heat day-old chicks in the next crop.

Another gadget is the integral CCTV system monitoring inside and outside the sheds, which he believes is the best investment. “You can log in from home and check birds, which combined with real time monitoring of feed and water consumption, allows you to detect any problems early on.”

David is also focused on the environment and while his unit meets all the environmental requirements of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) measures, he has gone further by investing £25,000 into an odour abatement system.

He has also gone beyond what is required of him on marketing. While he doesn’t directly sell his own products, he helped Moy Park by appearing on Tesco packs as the farmer on the label.

“This was something that I was immensely proud to be involved in.”

Looking to the future, David’s vision is to expand his business by eventually building another unit in the National Park to replicate his high performance.

And judging by the results, he is certain to succeed. At the time of the visit, David was at the top of the performance table with a European Poultry Efficiency Factor (EPEF) of 357.9 for his last crop.

So by offering five star accommodation, he is now seeing a five star performance from his birds.

Farm facts

  • 14 acres in Peak District National Park
  • Situated 1000ft above sea level
  • 180,000 broilers in four sheds
  • 100,000sq ft rearing space
  • Ross 308 birds as hatched
  • Contract reared for Moy Park

What the judges liked

  • “David exhibits the kind of vision and total commitment necessary to continue to succeed in the competitive broiler sector.”

Three achievements

  • Established a successful broiler business
  • First to adopt under floor heating
  • Topped the Moypark performance table


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