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Ranger – Review of 2023 with Dave Hodson

Review of 2023 with Dave Hodson at Rosehill – Poultry Vaccine Specialists

Looking back on 2023, I feel the sector is definitely much more positive and is in a far better place than in the preceding year.

The BFREPA conference and exhibition in November was buzzing, with many farmers we spoke to saying they could have gone for a second day! As many farming can be quite an insular, it was generally apparent that they appreciated the opportunity to mingle, meet fellow producers, gain knowledge and meet suppliers in free range specific conference.

Certainly, the free-range sector has started to settle down into a real community and producers seem to be starting to actually enjoy themselves again.

2023 saw the belief that biosecurity was vital taken onboard and to heart even more than before, with the prevalence of AI remaining. We need to maintain that vigilance to stay safe.

The new generation and culture in farming is becoming even more entrepreneurial, with farmers seeking ways to enhance production and get even more out of their flocks. There has been a really good take-up of advice and a better understanding of issue around poultry health and a greater appreciation of its impact in achieving low mortality rates. 

Prevention is better than a cure

As the familiar adage states, it is easier to prevent a health problem that cure it and the role of vaccines has never been more important than now. Longer laying cycles, require an appreciation of the additional stress and impact on mortality. No farmer wants a dead animal.

Farmers recognise and monitor the financial implications closely. 

Infectious bronchitis – a derivative of the Corona virus and AI have required an increasingly scientific approach and now, more than ever before, farmers are aware of the financial implications of diseases and keep good data records to monitor a range of aspects. It is encouraging and impressive to visit farmers where they clearly know their numbers and it’s satisfying to work with farmers who understand and can provide evidence to justify expenditure and the impact vaccination for example will make on their ROI. 

We can show, for example that vaccination for each bird, gives 3 times the return, which makes a huge difference

During the 1990ies vaccinations were standard procedures.

Financial uplift

With infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) vaccinations we see an uplift of 5 eggs per bird per site, which on a 32k shed can return additional profits of around £18k. 

During 2023, a pullet rearer operation asked us to carry out training days on over 35 sites, focusing on redmite, correct vaccination technique and worming. As the role of infectious bronchitis in egg shell quality and output is often very damaging, combined with unchecked red mite and worms, offering training in these areas is vital. Modern laying hens are geared for high levels of productivity, so vaccination is a must do, not an optional extra. 

Red mite causes around 2% mortality in a flock, reduces egg weights by up to 2g per egg and reduced feather cover so hens eat more and tend to avoid laying in infested areas so there is an increase in seconds from floor eggs. Learning the best ways to correctly time treatment and administer the products to control mite is an incredibly valuable tool for each farm. 

We are currently working closely with ADAS to tweak their costings model based on these findings to help ensure that those on tracker contracts receive fair recompense for their investment. 

In terms of AI vaccinations, I believe that the sampling side will move on dramatically with the European step to begin AI vaccination, and develop so vaccination will become viable. The monitoring aspect will improve and I believe if disease pressure remains high so we may see widespread vaccination programmes within 3-5 years.

Today’s farmers are open minded, keen to learn and are motivated to continue to educate themselves. It is a great environment to work in and very rewarding when you see consistent improvements in flock health management. 

I believe that as an industry we must continue to push forwards, collect data and remain at the cutting edge to get the best out of the hens.

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