Tom Willings of Eggbase shares his views on the way technology is transforming flock management and how permissioned sharing of data can help producers optimise their business.
The agri-food sector in the UK is in a pressure cooker. Do more with less, for less. It was arguably ever-thus. Inflation, media scrutiny, political indecision and inconsistency, animal welfare and environmental concerns leading to activism.
The news agenda facing farming is a stern examination of our passion and motivation for generational stewardship of the countryside and of livestock.
And that’s before you mention notifiable disease. We’re a Coca-Cola war from a Billy Joel lyric.
Of course, today, the egg industry is enjoying long-overdue improvement in financial fortune following the years of frog-boiling doldrums and the acute pain of Putin’s war.
Nevertheless, the cyclical nature of our industry is no secret, and most would anticipate supply and demand redress in the months ahead.
Now is the time to shore up business performance to capture and lock-in as much of the current upside. But how?
When I joined the industry, flock performance was often judged at the kitchen table, several months after a flock had depleted, with the accountant having recently run their rule over the books.
A good flock was implied simply by black numbers, without too much depth of analysis.
It’s a generalisation, but many an egg enterprise was supporting aspects of a mixed farm that were ailing at the time. The egg shed bore little further scrutiny.
Nearly 15 years later, healthy profit margins have made way for economies of scale. Egg production has become less art and more science.
Data and the necessary analysis of cause and effect are replacing instinct and habit.
Crucially, the tools to interrogate real-time information now exist; short-interval control isn’t just for the factory; it’s for the farm too.
Detection of early warning signs, especially given the threat posed by avian flu, is critical.
Reduced egg numbers or increased mortality may be the immediately obvious signs, but they’re likely to be preceded by changes in consumption several days earlier.
During an outbreak, already under intense duress, the immediate provision of comprehensive records will be demanded by the authorities.
Demonstrable electronic records both ease the strain of gathering papers from various places, but also instil invaluable confidence in officials.
The benefits of such dexterity go beyond just being able to identify early discrepancies in health or performance.
Automated monitoring of metrics such as feed and water consumption, bird weight and egg numbers can be combined with environmental sensor data to create a playground for analysis.
Overlaying interventions such as ration changes, worming or medication gives another depth of insight.
Comparing or benchmarking these influences on performance between current and historic flocks on farm or, even better, within a selected cohort across a network of comparable businesses, starts to unlock the opportunity to refine management.
With software like Eggbase, a farm can easily create impactful charts to visualise the interplay between production variables. They can also elect to share such information with feed or breed suppliers, vets or packers, facilitating teamwork and accountability.
As specialists in our field, be that primary production, feed manufacturing, breeding or rearing, veterinary health or even marketing, we place trust and dependency upon our chosen business partners to complete the value chain. If we harness technology to collate, analyse, report and share data, we create opportunities for competitive advantage through performance gain, increased customer confidence and, ultimately, being easier to serve.
As the complex expectations of consumers and lenders grow, being ‘tech savvy’ can no longer remain the preserve of the next generation. It’s simply the way we need to operate today.