Despite the job description on my contract with Westleaze Farm stating ‘Assistant Avian Production Manager’, working on a family-run farm means that you have to be prepared for anything any day. Which, in my opinion, is one of the numerous positives of dedicating your working days to the outdoors and animals.
Most mornings are spent tending to the farm’s main source of income, our free range layer hens, that at the moment are producing over 7000 eggs a day. Come the afternoon, however, continual lists of seasonal jobs rotate to fill up the remaining duration of the week. Time flies when you jump between TB testing our herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle, rearing calves, delivering eggs or tending to the fences and hedges around our farm on the top of the picturesque Beaminster Downs.
It is for this reason that when speaking to a farmer, if you catch them as the sun begins to set, they are most likely to exclaim in their Dorset accent the immortal words of ‘there really ain’t enough hours in the day!’
This March, for us, there really won’t be enough hours in the day, as on our poultry unit that we rent on the outskirts of Weymouth we have period known in the industry as ‘turnaround’. In the space of four weeks, we will bid farewell to our current birds and clean and sanitise every inch of the shed that houses them, ready for a new flock of 8000 birds that will hopefully produce around two and a half million eggs over the coming year.
The weapon required to lay that quantity of egg is the Lohmann Brown Classic. The bird, which is a crossbreed of the Rhode Island Red and White Rocks, is a finally-tuned athlete and for them to perform at their peak, the conditions of their environment need to be perfect.
E. coli, Salmonellosis, Blackhead, Newcastle Disease, Coccidiosis and Avian Influenza (AI) is just a selection of possible health issues for our feathered-friends, if we do not ensure that their new home is bio secure. The latter, AI, has been prevalent in the UK for the last few months and has required for all poultry to be kept indoors to protect them for mixing with wild birds who could be carrying the disease.
To ensure the health and welfare of the birds are satisfactory, my month of March will be spent attached to the end of a pressure washer as the ceiling to the floor and the walls to the nest boxes are all cleaned and sterilised. I am hoping for an upturn in temperature as past winter turnarounds have been havoc with the additional stress of frozen water and even deeper frozen fingers.
All the time and dedication will be worth it on the 22nd of the month as the new pullets will begin to populate their pristine shed. Like a child on their first-ever day of school, they will be apprehensive at first, but will soon range and explore their environments. Like the proud father of 8000 squawking girls… I wait in anticipation to find that very first egg.
By: Andrew Livingston