Despite all the problems of 2020, it proved to be a record year for the broiler sector.

Annual broiler output just topped 1.7m tonnes for the first time (measured by Defra as carcase weight equivalent).

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This was almost two per cent up on the previous high of 1.67m, reached in 2018.

The first half of last year brought a strong surge in output, with weekly production during April exceeding 35,000 tonnes for the first time (see chart).

This followed the high level of birds placed in the period up to March and indicates that, before Covid, the industry was gearing up for an exceptional year.

Output then dropped away during the summer after placings were reined in at the start of the lockdown.

Then came a further surge in output in the autumn, when chick numbers had recovered in July.

Broiler output in the first two months of this year has been subdued after chick numbers tailed off again in the last quarter of 2020.

Spring production

Combined output in January and February was down 8,500 tonnes on the same time last year, a fall of three per cent.

Things should turn more positive again when the Spring production data is released since day-old placings were expanding again at the start of this year.

Overall chick numbers in Jan-Feb came to 206m, an increase of 3m on last year, or 1.5%.

Turkey poult placings were steady at the start of this year, rising just fractionally by 16,000 in Jan-Feb to 2.14m compared with a year earlier.