Gareth Wilks- Winner 2021 - Poultry in motion: A chicken’s guide to good choices

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  Hollard Insure and Farmingportal.co.za and Agri News Net - Young Agri Writers competition 

Food security is in the limelight, both because of recent disruptions to supply chains and the global climate summit.

Production statistics by the South African Poultry Association show the poultry sector as the largest sector of South African (SA) agriculture, contributing one-fifth of agriculture’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and more than 40% of all animal products. Chicken meat has further been shown to be far more sustainable to produce, with a carbon footprint three times lower than pork and 10 times more efficient than beef. This, together with the lower cost to consumers, makes local production of chicken essential to ensuring a continued supply of affordable and sustainable protein.

Have you ever wondered exactly how a day-old broiler weighing just 42 g can grow up to be such an integral part of feeding the nation? Broiler producers are constantly bombarded with choices that ultimately either set them on the highway to success or down the dead-end road to failure. This article aims to provide some key guidelines to ensure that your flock stays on the right track.

Balance planning with agility

Benjamin Franklin said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, and he is still right! Preparation, planning, and persistence are essential for optimal performance, although in an industry where things can change at moment’s notice, it’s just as important to remain flexible. When things go wrong, it’s easy to dwell on should haves and what ifs, but in the fast-paced world of broiler production – where 1 billion broilers are produced for slaughter in SA every year – there is simply no time for self-pity. While we should endeavour to learn from past mistakes and experiences, it is a waste of valuable time to dwell on them. Allowing time for reflection and proper planning between production cycles can help ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated, while providing you and your team with the agility to deal with whatever new challenge life – and the chickens – throw at you.

You can’t farm from the boardroom

Humans are notorious for trying to find the path of least resistance in everything we do, and this is highlighted in today’s world of high-tech poultry farming. Although the technology exists to make your life easier by allowing you to monitor and control every aspect of operation at the touch of a button from your office, there is no substitute for being in the house with the birds. The technology might be telling you one thing, but the birds could be experiencing something completely different. Being hands-on is essential – after all, the birds never lie.

Pay attention to detail

No two production cycles are ever the same, with each cycle presenting its own set of challenges and opportunities. A broiler producer’s goal is to maximise profits by growing big birds as efficiently as possible. This single-minded focus might cause some producers to overlook small things that don’t have a specific monetary value assigned to them. For instance, flushing drinking lines might seem insignificant, but these everyday duties can have a significant ripple effect on your business, and incremental improvements can lead to massive gains. Creating and implementing standard operating procedures is one way of ensuring that the small things don’t get overlooked.

When you snooze, you lose

We’ve all heard the saying: “The early bird catches the worm”. In the case of broiler production, this doesn’t necessarily mean waking up at the crack of dawn, but rather keeping up to date on the latest research and market trends. The rate at which poultry genetic companies have made progress over the past century is mind-boggling: where it used to take 62 days to reach a slaughter weight of 1,9 kg, today the same growth process takes only 33 days. For the producer, this means that the management practices that worked five years ago might now be preventing the flock from reaching its full genetic potential. A successful producer is one that adopts a continuous learning approach.

The road to success

The road to success is inundated with choices, and it may s seem like an impossible task to make the right call every time. However, with the correct planning and by adopting a hands-on approach and a continuous learning mindset, many of those decisions become second-nature and will help you as a broiler producer continue contributing to making a real difference to food security in South Africa!

 Gareth Wilks-

Gareth Wilks was born and raised in Gauteng and completed his education at St Stithians Boys’ College. His strong affinity for livestock production resulted in him pursuing a BSc degree in animal science at the University of Pretoria, graduating with distinction in 2019. Gareth is currently in his final year of an MSc graduate degree where his research is focused on improving phosphorus utilisation in broilers by comparing the efficacy of novel phytase enzymes in young broiler diets using different sampling and statistical methods. Along with completing his MSc degree, he is currently the head limestone research coordinator at Chemuniqué Pty (Ltd) and is obtaining valuable commercial experience in broiler nutrition and production. When he is not busy writing up his thesis, Gareth enjoys exploring various hiking and running trails across South Africa. Gareth has a strong desire to make a difference in the poultry industry as well as further his knowledge on the global stage.