THE UNCERTAINTY created by Brexit and a desire to see the family farm succeed for years to come led one Welshpool farming family to make a feathery change.
Farmers’ Union of Wales members Mark and Helen Williams, who farm 40 suckler cows and 900 ewes at Pen Y Derw, near Welshpool, decided to diversify into egg production and have been up-and-running since June this year.
The poultry unit, which is home to 16,000 free range hens, provides the family with an additional income, as well as offering extra part time employment in the area.
“We have looked at poultry farming for the last ten years and the uncertainty created by Brexit, bearing in mind that most of our income has been provided by lamb trade and farm support payments, gave us the push we needed to make the decision and get the ball rolling,” said Mark Williams.
The planning process started in early 2015 and after lots of drawings, surveys and modelling, planning was granted in November 2015.
“Egg production is mainly a domestic market, so that takes the fear of having to export away. Originally we thought we would be going into broiler chickens but when researching the market a contract was difficult to find. The final thing that made us decide were our 3 boys. We are expanding the business to accommodate them if they wish to take over the farm in the future,” added Mark.
The eggs produced at Pen Y Derw are sold to L J Fairburns & Son, who collect them to be processed (graded) and packed, and they are then sent to distribution centres and onto supermarket shelves.
The chickens produce between 14,500 – 15,500 eggs every day, and Helen is in the chicken shed by 6.30am to check the birds, before heading back to house by 7.30 to make the boys their breakfast and do the school run.
Then its back to the chicken shed to start packing eggs by 9am, which takes about three hours.
By around 5pm Helen makes her way back to shed to do the final walk around and check the hens are ok.
Talking about her new routine she said: “I have to fit things in around the boys where possible and the mornings are now taken up with the hens.
“Before I had time to do other jobs, such as housework, banking, paperwork etc. so the pace here has definitely changed. Looking after the chickens is not so heavy and physical as looking after the sheep and cattle and it’s work in a dry and warmish environment.”
Walking around the chicken shed, Mark explains the production process: “The hens lay their eggs in nest boxes. Then the eggs roll onto the egg belts, which take them onto a cross conveyor and into the packing room.
“Here they are graded by hand, go through the machine to be stamped and put in trays. Then they go along a belt into a tray stacker, which stacks trays in sixes. Once we have a run of six stacks we put them on a pallet, which is a total of 720 dozen eggs. This is then wrapped and labeled and left in the cool room for collection,” he said.
Even though the couple have now got used to their new routine, it has not all been plain sailing from the start. Helen explains: “The birds arrived in a really hot week in June and they weren’t eating or drinking enough to start, although they were still gaining weight.
“That was a bit of a worry for us but thanks to the support from Lloyds animal feed we managed to get everything sorted. We also had a few very minor teething problems with the equipment but now everything is running well. With all the eggs our hens are producing we look forward to lots of cake here at home and a reduced fertiliser bill.”
But do the couple think they have made the right decision 4 months into their new way of life?
“We are still learning and it has changed our life quite a bit, maybe ask us again in 12 months time,” laughs Helen.
Having visited the farm and seen the new chicken shed in action recently, FUW County Executive Officer Emyr Davies said: “Mark and Helen are a credit to our industry. Their enthusiasm and dedication to give their farming business a chance of survival in light of the uncertainty created by Brexit is really an inspiration.
“Of course, this sort of diversification doesn’t suit everyone and there are often stumbling blocks with regards to planning that hold many farm businesses back. I would urge those in charge of granting planning permission to think again and not be the block that holds those farms back who want to future proof their business.”
First Minister to address FUW’s AGM
THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES is looking forward to welcome First Minister Carwyn Jones as the keynote speaker at its annual general meeting, which is taking place on Monday, June 18, at the William Davies Suite, IBERS in Aberystwyth.
The event is due to start at 1:30pm with a warm welcome from FUW President Glyn Roberts, which will be followed by a question and answer session on Brexit and #FarmingMatters.
Speaking ahead of the AGM, Glyn Roberts said: “We look forward to welcoming the First Minister to our AGM, which is likely to be his last engagement with the FUW in his current role.
“It promises to be a great afternoon of farming matters discussions, with a strong focus on agriculture in Wales post-Brexit, as well as #FairFarmFunding and I hope to see many of you there.
“And as is tradition we will also be revealing the winners of the FUW Owen Slaymaker Award, FUW New Members Award, and the FUW Long Service Award, in addition to a variety of FUW Insurance Services awards.”
Manifesto sets Brexit agenda
LEADERS of over 100 organisations from across the nation’s food supply chain have put their names to a manifesto setting out the key principles that can help ensure Brexit is a success for the supply of food in the UK.
The UK Food Supply Chain Manifesto, has been drawn up by organisations representing farmers producing the raw ingredients and their suppliers, right through to manufacturers and retailers. It sets out the need for positive outcomes on trade, labour, regulation and domestic agricultural policy.
With little more than 10 months to go before Brexit, the manifesto emphasises the importance of ensuring our departure from the EU does not undermine the food production and supply sectors in the UK.
The manifesto has been sent to the Prime Minister by NFU President Minette Batters on behalf of the signatories, as well as other key cabinet ministers.
Mrs Batters said: “Today we are presenting a united voice as a food and farming sector worth at least £112bn to the UK economy and employing around 4 million people; a food and farming sector that meets 61% of the nation’s food needs with high-welfare, traceable and affordable food; a food and farming sector that cares for three-quarters of the iconic countryside, that, in turn, delivers over £21bn in tourism back to our economy.
“In the manifesto we warn, as a collective, that a Brexit that fails to champion UK food producers, and the businesses that rely on them, will be bad for the country’s landscape, the economy and critically our society. Conversely, if we get this right, we can all contribute to making Brexit a success for producers, food businesses and the British public, improving productivity, creating jobs and establishing a more sustainable food supply system.
“When it comes to the nation’s ability to produce food, we believe it is critical that the different elements of Brexit are carefully considered by all Government departments – including the Prime Minister who has herself spoken about the importance of supporting our sector through Brexit in recent days.
“As we enter this critical period in the Brexit negotiations, the signatories to this manifesto will be looking to Government to ensure its objectives are aligned with ours to ensure British food production – something of which every person in this country enjoys the benefits – gets the best possible deal post-Brexit.”
One key objective in the manifesto appears likely to run headlong into so-called ‘red lines’ set by the most enthusiastic of Parliamentary Brexiteers, who appear happy to countenance a future for food and farming in which small farms and the rural enterprises which depend on them are swept away in a torrent of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef.
The report states: ‘The UK and the EU27 will continue to be each other’s most important trading markets in food and drink. In 2016, 60% of UK exports and 70% of UK imports in food, feed and drink were with countries in the EU.
‘Working towards a mutually beneficial trade agreement is a clear priority for the UK food supply chain, one which guarantees tariff-free trade and with as limited a number of non-tariff restrictions as possible. It is imperative that the EU and UK reach an agreement that maintains continuity in existing trade arrangements as far as possible, including the avoidance of a hard border in Northern Ireland’.
Avian Influenza Prevention Zone ends
CABINET SECRETARY for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths has confirmed that the All Wales Avian Influenza Prevention Zone will be lifted with effect from Friday, May 25.
The Cabinet Secretary has taken this decision based on an updated veterinary risk assessment conducted by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) which found the risk of incursion from wild birds has reduced from High to Low. Similarly, the risk to poultry is also Low.
The Prevention Zone was introduced on January 25 to mitigate the risk of infection following three separate findings in England of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N6 in Wild Birds.
In Wales, there has been only one finding in a wild bird this year. There have been no cases of H5N6 avian influenza in poultry in the UK this year and the poultry sector retains its OIE disease free status.
Cabinet Secretary said: “In January, I took action and declared the whole of Wales an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone in response to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N6 findings in England. This was a precautionary measure to minimise the risk of infection to poultry here in Wales.
“We have since been monitoring the situation closely and the latest risk assessment by APHA has concluded that the risk has reduced from High to Low for wild birds and the risk to poultry is also Low.
“Based on this evidence-based veterinary advice I am pleased to announce that the current All Wales Avian Influenza Prevention Zone will come to an end with immediate effect. Whilst this is welcome news it is important to remember avian influenza remains a constant and real threat to our poultry and other captive birds.”
Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Christianne Glossop added: “I cannot stress enough the need for all keepers of poultry and other captive birds to remain vigilant for signs of the disease and to continue to practice the very highest levels of biosecurity.
“If anyone suspects disease they should contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency immediately. Also, we can all play a part in supporting the ongoing surveillance by reporting any findings of dead wild birds to the GB helpline.
“I would also like to remind all poultry keepers with 50 birds or more they must register their flocks on the Poultry Register and strongly encourage all poultry keepers, including those with fewer than 50 birds, to register. This will ensure they can be contacted immediately, via email or text update, in an avian disease outbreak, enabling them to protect their flock at the earliest opportunity and minimise the spread of infection.”
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