Rearing broiler breeders, growing commercial broilers and hatching turkey breeding stock are the activities of the three finalists competing for the 2013 Zoetis/BPC Trainee of the Year Award. Roger Ranson profiles the contenders.
Steven McMorrine finds it “a joy to get out of bed in the morning” to go to work with chickens rather than training to become an electrician, his first choice on leaving high school at Livingston, west of Edinburgh.
Although he was brought up on poultry farms – both his father and uncle work for 2 Agriculture – it was not his immediate intention to follow in their footsteps. But when an opportunity arose, he soon realised how wrong this was.
“This was a hard decision for him,” says Leeanne Brown, HR adviser for 2 Agriculture. “But with encouragement from his father, and remembering visits as a youngster to a poultry farm his uncle managed, he was amazed by what he saw.”
Steven started with 2 Agriculture as a poultry worker in December 2009. His potential became apparent quickly, and after two years he progressed to assistant farm manager.
“He is an extremely conscientious individual who has shown great initiative and has always gone the extra mile,” says David Montgomerie, general manager for broilers, 2 Agriculture. “He has a thirst for knowledge and continually looks for ways to improve the farm and results.
“As assistant farm manager he motivated his team to work with him in making a visible difference on the farm, and at the age of 21, after only three-and-a-half years in the company, Steven has progressed to farm manager.
“This is a great achievement and down to his hard work, conscientious approach and a ‘can do’ attitude. Having recently completed his SVQ level 2, he’s keen to progress to level 3, which we have no doubt he will achieve.”
Steven now manages 2 Agriculture’s Almondale Poultry Farm, Broxburn. This 50-year-old farm has recently had improvements done, involving complete replacement of the dwarf walls, and re-insulation and re-roofing a number of sheds.
Despite the age of the unit, Steven has achieved results for feed conversion, liveweight gain and EPEF that place it in the top 10 company units in Scotland.
How well Steven has adapted was immediately apparent to Lorraine McAulay, programme leader at Scotland’s Rural College, Ayr.
“His farm was so immaculate that I was really taken by surprise,” she says. “It’s something you’d normally associate with a manager who’d taken pride in the farm over many years rather than somebody quite so young. Steven is dealing with workers older than himself and he commands their respect in the way he runs the farm. That’s no mean feat.”
She feels that Steven is just the type of person who would benefit from a new HNC course in poultry production that the college has launched this autumn.
The course provides 12 modules covering the whole industry which can be studied as distance learning.
“I am passionate about my job,” says Steven. ‘I’m keen to continue learning in poultry management, animal welfare and biosecurity, to help progress my career. In five years I would like to have more to do with production management.”
As A temporary summer job at a Lincolnshire turkey hatchery turned out so much to his liking that Danny Ashley decided to cut short his A-level studies and start a career there.
Three years later, Danny has just completed an Advanced Apprenticeship in Poultry Production – and has become a key member of the team at the Aviagen hatchery at Grantham.
His father, who was working in the hatchery’s maintenance team, helped to secure the summer job after Danny had completed the first year of his studies. “I immediately liked the work, it’s a very interesting job and I asked if I could stay there,” he recalls.
What makes the job particularly stimulating is the range of activities. Grantham is the main production centre for Aviagen Turkeys’ parent stock business in Europe, as well as having a stand-alone pedigree hatchery.
Over the past three years Danny has carried out many different tasks, including stock rotation, fertility testing and dispatch. He deputises for the egg room manager when he’s away, ensuring all deliveries are entered on to the bespoke egg flow system, that stock rotation is up to date and loading all eggs required for incubation.
In the pedigree hatchery he spends one day a week performing individual computer entries for pedigree hatch data, constructing egg sets for incubation, and identifying and rotating surplus pedigree stock.
“Danny is now a key member of staff who is both reliable and conscientious,” says hatchery manager Andrew Cleare. “The training courses he’s undertaken have added new skills to his already broad range of abilities.
“He’s now fully able to step in to any part of the process, if needed, showing flexibility and competence across all tasks. He is also a good communicator who has the knowledge and ability to foresee problems before they occur and act appropriately to avoid hold-ups.”
Nathan Raines, associate director of Poultec Training, who tutored Danny during his Intermediate and then Advanced Apprenticeship, soon recognised his potential and was impressed by his enthusiasm and thirst to learn, along with his sharp IT and organisational skills.
Danny has been with Aviagen just three years and was 21 last month. “Even at his young age he has been keen to take on more responsibility and certainly has the ability for a management role at the hatchery,” says Mr Raines.
Danny adds that the level 2 and 3 qualifications have certainly enabled him to work to a higher standard and more efficiently. “It’s given me a deeper well of knowledge from which to draw experience and understanding when facing new and old tasks. I also find it easier to step back and work through a task methodically before engaging in the practical side.”
Looking ahead, Danny has his sights on a management training course such as the ILM NVQ certificate management level 3, which would both enable him to take on more responsibility and make him more valuable to his employer.
Then he’d like to work towards an applied poultry science degree, such as one offered by the Open University.
It was the start of the economic recession five years ago that led Nicholas Ham to turn his back on the automotive industry to seek a career in poultry production.
Nicholas had completed three A-levels at high school in Ross-on-Wye and gained a place at Birmingham University to study automotive engineering – but he was concerned about the prospects for the car industry and thought he’d find more security in the poultry industry.
Poultry was not completely new to Nicholas – his grandfather used to rear chickens – and he soon obtained a position as assistant on an 18,000 free-range laying unit near Gloucester. He worked there for three years, with much of his time taken up working outside the sheds. “I didn’t get to spend a great deal of time learning about the birds,” he recalls.
He took a year out to tour India, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and South America. Then, on his return, he spotted an advertisement in the Hereford Times for an assistant on a 35,000 bird broiler breeder farm belonging to Cargill Meats Europe at Broadmoor Common, near Hereford.
“This was a steep learning curve,” recalls Nicholas. “I was in with the birds in a very hands-on role, from when the lights came on in the morning until they went out in the afternoon, asking questions the whole time.”
After two years as an assistant, Nicholas was promoted to farm manager.
John Nicholls, breeder manager of Cargill, says that Nicholas has quickly become a valued member of their team. “In Nick’s short time with us he has been promoted from assistant to farm manager and contributed to the successful rearing of birds not only from Broadmoor, but other sites he’s worked on.
“He has good attention to detail and excellent stockmanship skill. Training, both in-house and by Poultec, has been instrumental in Nick’s development and promotion.”
Kieron Long, agricultural assessor of Poultec, describes Nicholas as “an outstanding candidate”. He is impressed by Nicholas’ overall outlook, attention to fine detail and the way he used his computer skills to develop a new ventilation programme.
“Nicholas is just the type of person the industry needs for the future,” he adds. “A lot of the managers today will be retiring in the next few years and the industry will need younger people with his skills to fill these roles.”
Nicholas gained a level 2 key skills qualification a year ago and then a Diploma in Work-based Agriculture level 3 in June. If successful, he would use the training grant to progress to a higher level diploma, with more short courses on bird health, disease and perhaps also post-mortem.
“I’d also like to spend time in different sectors of the breeding industry such as growing, a hatchery and maybe even a grandparent rearing or laying farm.
“If the right doors open for me, I’d like to be a fieldsman or area manager within a couple of years.”