Change is one of the few certainties in poultry production, as in life in general. Four industry leaders recently spoke about the past, present and future of poultry production, addressing how the industry has had to change to succeed and what changes might be around the corner during the 2018 Diversified Agriculture distributor appreciation conference on October 10-12 in St. Pete Beach, Florida.

Mike Donohue, Agri Stats, Shelby Watkins, Tyson Foods, Jess Campbell, Ph.D., Auburn University, and Karen Christensen, Ph.D., Tyson Foods, spoke during the event, which was held for Diversified Agriculture distributors, many of them growers themselves. In addition to the guest speakers and product presentations by Diversified Agriculture staff, a series of roundtable discussions allowed attendees to discuss the biggest challenges facing the industry and collaborate on potential solutions.

One of the main topics of these discussions was staffing challenges. “We’re chasing labor,” said Donohue of Agri Stats. “Wage rates in the broiler industry are increasing significantly more than the U.S. minimum wage rate. It’s driving the demand for automation.”

Automation in production and processing can be challenging, however, with so many different and changing variables. For example, bird size has shifted drastically in recent decades. “Forty percent of pounds are now coming from big bird operations with yield becoming the number one defining characteristic,” said Donohue. “And currently, over half of the birds sold in the U.S. are now NAE (no antibiotics ever).”

Husbandry needs have changed drastically on this system of production. Improvements in ventilation, husbandry and genetics have allowed producers to grow bigger birds, which has also created opportunities for big gains and losses. “We need to look at the value of that 1%,” said Donohue. “What areas can we gain a 1% improvement on that would net big returns?”

Water management is one area that has significant room for improvement, according to Jess Campbell, Ph.D., Auburn University. “There are so many things growers have no control over, but they can control their water,” said Campbell. “It’s important to know how to take advantage of that.”

Campbell discussed the importance of assessing water capacity and quality. “I encourage growers to be proactive in their water management and identify performance problems related to seasonal changes, expansions, and new wells, and how to meet water standards despite these changes.”

The best time to think about water management is before a house is even built, according to Campbell. “Think about house size, bird size and density, fan power, number of houses, location of water source and future expansion. Then design for more than you need.”

Shelby Watkins and Karen Christensen, Ph., D. of Tyson Foods agree on the need to look ahead and plan on addressing bigger challenges than expected. Both speakers discussed industry trends and changes—one from a breeder producer’s view point, the other from the consumer.

“At Tyson, we’re working to create a culture of change,” said Watkins. “We realize that we can’t flip a switch on effective change. We’re slowly moving from a reactive environment to proactive environment, and focusing on enabling growth and utilizing technology more efficiently on our breeder and pullet farms.”

Change doesn’t always equal new, however. “In some areas of breeders and pullet, old is new again,” Watkins commented. “We’re seeing the move back to concrete floors, no slats for improved sanitation, maintenance, bird behavior and ventilation, and chain feeders to reduce cost.” Watkins also discussed Tyson’s move to nest closures for cleaner eggs, and solid sidewall housing for breeders. “The tunnel doors used in broiler houses are making the move to breeders because of improved house tightness and higher insulation.”

The focus for Karen Christensen is how Tyson must adapt to consumer pressures in order to thrive, stating there are an “increasing number of blurred lines between ag animals and companion animals.”

“It is projected that we will need an additional 50% of food produced by 2050,” said Christensen. “In a time when people are identifying with their food and associating their morals and ethics to it, we need to understand that when perception doesn’t match reality, there will be a problem.”

Christensen suggested increasing transparency to gain trust through the use of technology. “Cameras in production and processing areas, audits of that footage and the use of social media to create a favorable image for consumers can all play a role.”

Using technology to improve animal welfare will also be vital. For example, “thermo imaging cameras can determine if husbandry practices are effective and help us understand what the birds want. We need to know under what conditions birds perform well, and then create that environment.”

Diversified President, Meir Toshav, was thrilled at the opportunity to bring together various parties in the industry to collaborate on solutions. “It is the only way we will be able to be better, faster and more accurate in our business,” state Toshav. “At Diversified, we strive to keep a pulse on the industry and our employees and relationships are our best asset to make that happen.”

Diversified Agriculture has hosted their bi-annual dealer appreciation event for 15 years. In addition to the featured speakers, networking and leisure activities at these all-expenses paid events, the meetings provide an opportunity for dealers to hear about the company’s latest product developments. The big news for 2018 was design improvements to the Rotem One house controller and the automated functionality of the Plasson Water on Demand Pro.

The most recent addition to the Rotem line of house controllers, the Rotem One, was updated with improved electrical components for reduced electromagnetic noise and the ability to add more devices. Designers also worked in functionality that maintains controller operations even if the user interface fails. Another product change, inspired by dealer input, was a box redesign that gives more room for wires, making installation and maintenance easier. 

The Water on Demand Pro was a popular topic of discussion at the event due to its ability to enable automated pressure control of all nipple lines in a house from one central point. More specifically, a specific table in the Rotem Platinum and Rotem One allows for custom programming from day one to the end of flock based of true flock consumption at any moment during the day.