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How to run a poultry farm in crisis times such as the coronavirus outbreak

By Stanley Kaye

Many businesses can close down and ask their workers to continue working from home during a crisis such as the recent Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. We who work in the poultry and livestock industry have no such option, and even here in Israel, where the entire country is in near lockdown, the poultry industry is continuing to operate normally. Obviously, farming is an essential industry as people have to eat and birds need to be taken care of.

Although we are continuing to work, business is not as usual and here are some practical tips that can help all of us to weather the crisis. Before we start, we need to consider the following items:

  • A solid operation plan
  • Manpower and management
  • Virtual support
  • Essential supplies – redundant stock

Start with a plan

We have to adopt a military-like approach to this Coronavirus crisis. The army always plans forward in considering various scenarios, while focusing on the worst-case scenarios. We need to determine now how to react to different circumstances and to prepare accordingly.

The best way to do this is to gather the staff (unless you are a one-man farm) for a brainstorming session drafting the possible scenarios ahead and decide how to react if they materialize.

Such scenarios could include:

  • Member or members of staff needing to go into isolation, getting sick or leaving
  • Shortage of supplies
  • Maintenance teams not being able to arrive

These are just three general scenarios. How we deal with them depends on what stage of the crisis we are at and what is the likelihood that the situation will continue to deteriorate.

Management and staff

This is the most crucial element as no farm can run without manpower and management.

  • Assess key functions in the operation. Define critical functions that you cannot operate without (for example, the farm manager). Key functionaries should write out clearly a description of their job in a way that if someone needs to be replaced,  there will be some guidance. This is a worthwhile thing to do anyway.
  • Cross-training. Try to train people to take over more functions if necessary. If normally only one person knows how to operate the ventilation or controller train, make sure you now have at least two people who can take over. The same applies to any other key function – ordering feed, administering medicine, vaccines, etc.
  • Cooperation with neighbours. This might be the perfect time to chat with friends and neighbours, who may or may not be farmers. See if they are prepared to provide mutual cover, e.g., if you are ill they will help you and vice versa. There might be young people in the area who may be prepared to help. All this needs to be done before things become even worse, so you can show them your system and give them basic training.
  • Keep your key people apart, so they don’t infect each other and force other workers to go into isolation. For example, if you have a farm manager and an assistant who can replace him, they should work in separate shifts, so they won’t infect each other. They should also refrain from being in places where they might both be infected by a third party.

In most countries, anybody who has been in contact with someone infected with coronavirus has to go into isolation. If both managers do their shopping at the same supermarket, where an employee is found to be infected, they will both be out of action for two weeks.

Avoid all face-to-face meetings that are not essential. Keep anybody who is not essential away from your premises. This is not the time to install a new kitchen for the workers.

Remote access and monitoring

If there is one thing that can really help in an emergency situation it is the possibility to remotely access the sheds and the controllers. If you can do this, and your staff numbers are down, you can use untrained or less well-trained staff and allow the monitoring and control to be done from afar.

Remote monitoring and control can be done in-house within the organization or by using external services. If you need any help with this, Agrotop has teamed up with an excellent service offered by a team of highly experienced professional, which specialises in monitoring and optimising poultry farms results.

Remote assistance can occur without removing the data from the business, with your facility being checked by trained technicians 24 hours a day. The service can be used for broiler, layer and breeder farms.

While using such a service is valuable all year around, it is especially vital as a contingency plan for an emergency. If you want more information, please contact us.

The most essential precaution is to ensure that the controllers are connected to a PC which is linked to the internet and has a remote access programme working. Without that no one would be able to help.

Stocks of vital supplies

Feed and fuel. We have to assume that feed supplies and fuel (and electricity) will get through, but they might be delayed. Thus, you should store the maximum amounts you can. If you can store enough gas for the whole grow out, it would be great. If not, store as much as possible and refill as early as possible.

Similarly, no one can stock feed for a whole grow out, but instead of having two to three days of supply on hand, keep a week’s supply or more if you have room.

Check the generators and have as much fuel as possible for them and consider buying more storage facilities.

All medicines, vaccines and additives that you know you will need should be stored from the beginning of the grow out.

Maintenance and breakdowns

You have to assume that you are on your own. If anything breaks down, assume that nobody will come to help you to fix it.

  • Check your spare parts and tools
  • Check your maintenance staff

You need to try be in a position in which you can repair anything that is likely to go wrong locally.

We hope that the virus passes with minimum disruption, but it’s not looking that way. In any case, any contingency planning you do now will be useful for future crises. We at Agrotop are here if you need any assistance. The remote assistance programme is of course particularly busy now, but we will try to prioritise anybody with urgent problems.

Don’t hesitate to contact us.

The writer is a poultry consultant for Agrotop. He has 30 years hands-on experience in poultry farming. He has an economics degree from Leeds University and an MBA from Heriot Watt University, Scotland.