This article was taken from a Poultry World special edition, published in 1978 to celebrate the UK broiler industries silver jubilee, under the guidance of John Farrant who was editor at the time of the publication
In the beginning
Who or what started the British broiler industry is debatable, as the floor rearing of intensive table poultry had its followers in the early 1900s, if not before.
However, the first serious attempts to emulate the already well established USA system of broiler growing took place in early 1953 when Geoffrey Sykes and his partner Fred Finz used old army huts in Wiltshire for floor fattening. By mid-summer, Sussex based, Anthony Fisher had converted a cow shed to broiler production and, about the same time, the Yorkshire brothers Guy and Eric Reed had got going using ex-WD buildings.
These developments were stimulated by the news on the 1st of August of that year that feeding stuffs would be de-rationed – after 14 years of control. The rationing and World War Two austerity had killed off most of the earlier “spring chicken” business, which had occurred in the inter-war period (1918-1939) period.
Outside de-rationing, impetus for the emerging UK broiler industry came from 1953 articles in Poultry World, initially by Geoffrey Sykes and later Eric Golden, both of whom had returned from study tours of the USA and were eager to promote the American techniques. By now, the USA broiler industry had reached 600-900 million birds a year mark, helped along by cheap and plentiful feedingstuffs, affluent consumers and high competitive meat prices.
A hint of things to come in the UK appeared in Poultry World 19th March 1953, when the Andover Timber Company launched a specialist broiler house for 5,000 birds. The 5,000 sq ft unit was insulated and had been designed in conjunction with Geoffrey Sykes, on who’s Salisbury farm the prototype was functioning. Capital cost was under 5s (25p) a bird, and the reporter commented: “Broilers are being produced there on similar lines to those adopted in the USA and, it is stated, with a remarkably low mortality rate and a minimum of labour”
In the same issue, PW’s leader writer complained about the American “ugly name” – broiler. Later in the year a £20 competition was organised to find an alternative-although Geoffrey Sykes argued that an additional term would only create confusion.
About this time, W.M. “Max” Justice of Messrs. J. Sainsbury put the average UK per capita consumption of poultry meat at 6lb, consisting mainly of hen meat. He pointed out that there was a demand for 3-4lb table birds, provided they were of good quality and could be retailed at 10s-15s (50p-75p) apiece.
Keeping down to that price was considered difficult, particularly as the de-rationing of feedingstuffs was accompanied by the removal of a cereal subsidy. This was to push the 1953 price of wheat to £23 per ton, and imported maize to £32. Corresponding price for fishmeal was just under £50 a ton. At that time, fattening was carried out in cages, which were considered the only way to produce birds all year round for weekly markets, which were paying 2s-3s (10p-15p) per lb for live table birds.
By summer 1953, however, the foundations of a floor-rearing broiler industry had been laid and things had developed to the point where it was possible to publish a special issue devoted to the subject.
Thus, 25 years ago – almost to the day – the 25th June 1953 issue of PW contained an 8 page supplement entitled Fryers – Roasters – Broilers? And subtitled; A new technique for table production.
It was introduced, as follows: in its infancy in this country, production of a new class of chicken known at present as a “broiler” is fast spreading. Pioneer producer Geoffrey Sykes sets out in this supplement the details of management he is employing on his own plant and forecasts a promising future for specially reared 12-14 weeks chickens of up to 4-4.5 lb.
The following comments have been taken from its editorial pages: We use RIR x LS or LS x 1 Game x LS, males or as–hatched, according to the season. For British conditions 10,000 to 15,000 (birds) can be looked upon as full-time employment for one man. British feed compounders are putting out specially mixed mashes as and when feedstuffs come off ration. A chart of his latest batch of 800 cockerels showed that 70-day weight was 3lb 3oz on a feed conversion of 3.13.1. The chicks had cost £16, the litter £2, fuel £15, medicine £2 and labour was estimated at one hour a day. Cumulative losses amounted to 30 birds and the flock was due to be marketed at 12-14 weeks of age.
Geoffrey Sykes also made an industry development forecast. With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to under- estimate the accuracy of his crystal ball. But it should be remembered that many expert contemporaries were stating that there wasn’t a market for the output of large scale broiler production. And that he was suggesting a switch in table poultry management as revolutionary as Concorde must have seemed to wartime pilots.
He wrote in 1953, “Poultry meat in England is regarded as a scarce high-priced food only eaten by the average townsman at a hotel or at home when having a ‘beano”. The introduction of a broiler industry can alter all of this and production costs (can be) materially lowered.
“Producers of these specially reared chicken will have to see that a plentiful supply of their product is processed efficiently and economically, and marketed in such an attractive fashion that a big consumer demand is created. The Americans have taught me that it should not be difficult for broilers produced in England to be offered in the shops as eviscerated chicken, carrying all the bloom and eye appeal of high quality, freshness, good processing and packing; a product which can leave the imported frozen chicken completely in the shade. The aim in production should be to get through to the vast untapped market in Britain, the British housewives, who will take readily to chicken meat when it attractively presented to them at the right price”
Processors were already established in 1953, although they were largely involved with old hens on a seasonal basis. However, they were eagerly awaiting broiler production which could give their machinery and staff all-year-round employment.
Big names in processing at that time, included the co-operative Polpak and a Herefordshire business which traded as Woodhall Poultry and Cold Storage.
Note BOCM served the new broiler – barbecued over a charcoal fire – to visitors attending the May 1953 open day at Stoke Mandeville. Recipe of the special served (and considered necessary for broiled birds) was available on request.
Feeder circa 1953
In the spring the first specialist broiler ration arrived when BOCM launched its Table Poultry Crumbs and a corresponding Mash. These feeds were fortified with antibiotics and contained a coccidiostat – either sulphaquinoxaline or nitrofurazone. By the autumn, this national compounder had published its first broiler management guide and run its first growing competition.
Winner was Oxfordshire grower Col G. Lewis whose 50 12-week cockerels reached an average weight of just over 5lb. There were 38, 50-bird entries whose mean liveweight was 4lb 3.2oz (4.2lb) with mortality of 1.74 %. Feed conversion averaged 3.5:1 but ranged from 2.56 to 4.88.
The main poultry college, Harper Adams, put up its first broiler unit in April. It was a 40ft long by 30ft wide Neata house for 750-1,000 birds, costing £800. About this time Geoffrey Sykes reckoned a 5,000 bird house shell could be established for £1,000 plus £700 for fittings. In July, Simpson Ready Foods, Manchester put up the biggest house yet – a series of joined, 30ft wide, Neata Mark 111s, to give 460ft of length and take 17,000 broilers.
T. Abel-Smith of Woodhall Poultry published a years costings which showed that his 850-1,050 bird crops produced an average profit of 1s 7.5d (8p) apiece (i.e. a 20-25% profit margin). The birds growth data revealed a marked seasonal effect, with winter liveweight gain and FCR inferior to summer performance.
In the autumn Poultry World visited Danny Marshall in Scotland who was producing 100,000 poussins a year on a 10-acre holding. With his technical aide Archie McGee he was also involved in pig, turkey, pullet and egg production plus broilers. The latter were fattened in cages to 8 weeks and then moved onto floor accommodation to 12 weeks of age. While north of the border, the reporter also called on D.S. Carruthers (reputed to be the pioneer of the Scottish broiler industry) who had installed the first Big Dutchman automatic feeder on his Ayrshire unit.
As the year closed, NAAS (now ADAS) poultry chief Dr Rupert Coles announced that broiler production was, “now firmly established”. He put 1954s output at 15-20 million birds or 20,000 tons.
Later the 1954 Fowl Pest figures were announced – 795 outbreaks, down a bit on 1953s – 978.
This year was also the first time that broiler production received a special session at the National Poultry Show and Convention (the 9th Olympia exhibition). Chairman of the broiler papers was Gordon Gutteridge; speakers were W.D. “Chick” Evans, Ron Dring and Alan Bell.
Poultry World also had its moments – in December it absorbed the journal Poultry.
Personalities – particularly ex military officers – began to play major roles in the development of the broiler industry. Names like Commander Ian Hughes (Warwickshire farmer) Major George Bowlby (proprietor of Peak Poultry) and Squadron leader Anthony Fisher appeared regularly in print as did Major Ian MacDougal, Captain F.S. Gregory, Air Commodore Rupert Leigh and Col C.D. Rose.
The latter was managing director of Somerset Poultry Marketing Association which set up a 10,000 a week processing plant in June. The factory, very large among the 300 plants of the time, had its own cold store and marketed cellophane bagged Suprema chicken.
Other personalities to take the floor at conferences included Polpak director Eric Reed, Welwyn Garden City hatcheryman Cecil Chilcott, Yorkshire Poultry Packers (Dalton) broiler expert John. S. Richards (ex NAAS broiler specialist) and W.D. Evans Ltd broiler adviser James Shuttlewood. He joined the company from Canada, where he had been responsible for the then unimaginable, production of 1.8 million broilers a year. Also in print but this time in book form were Eric Golden and John Ogier. Mt Golden wrote broilers, which Poultry World published in September. Its 114 pages and 25 illustrations cost 4s 6d (23p) a copy. Its text developed the broiler industry on from John Ogier and Murray Hale’s 1953 Poultry World Book Table Poultry Production.
Public barbecues were the in-thing. NEPP (National Egg and Poultry Publicity) held the first in Brighton in May as part of its promotion campaign “Eat more Chicken” An inshore gale caused a days postponement in Brighton, but thereafter things went well. Over 2,000 people attended the next event in June at the Highland Show and even more went to the giant Olympia barbecue. Chicken for the December feast was supplied by Polpak, FMC, John Rannoch, P.P. Poultry and Woodhall Poultry.
Equipment suppliers were now advertising specifically to broilermen: Calor Gas promoting brooders and gas; Golden Produce of Lymington offering a 4ft feed trough complete with stand and spinner 32s 6d (£1.65) and Ocean Harvest of Watford recommended its broiler mix concentrate – 4 cwt of cereals and/or cereal by- products.
Gordon Felber offered a 1,000 bird house for £245 delivered complete with accessories. As yet, not everyone had switched to floor rearing and both Swifts and J Shepherd and Sons regularly advertised broiler fattening cage units.
On the stock side, Southdown Hatcheries were charging £6 10s (£6.50) for 100 as hatched chicks derived from crosses of LS, RIR, WW and NHB, or £8 10s (£8.50) for the table speciality – the IG/LS x LS cross. Elsewhere, laying strain cockerels were still popular as broiler stock. They were considered economically viable at £1 to £1.10s (£1- £1.50) a 100, their price offsetting any loss in growth rate.
FMC entered the industry in September. It had no plant but for a fee, coordinated collection processing and marketing for its members. The charge was 5% of the wholesale price attained, plus 1s (5p) a bird to cover the custom processing. The years problems included chick delivery difficulties arising from the June rail strike and concern about imports for the USA. American marketers Messrs Arlo Turner, Dewey Termohien and Homer Huntingdon came to the UK seeking to sell frozen USA poultry. But the MAFF came to producers aid by restricting imports to cooked meat only as the USA was using Fowl Pest vaccines; here we didn’t use the vaccine and had an eradication policy.
Bulk was the key to 1956. In August Spillers inaugurated a bulk delivery service using two, 6-ton capacity, lorries. Producers were offered a discount of 25s (£1.25) a ton, provided they took a full lorry load.
Calor Gas also started a bulk service installing, in January, eight 100-gallon tanks on Anthony Fisher’s unit. Then in July, a 250-gallon unit was put up for the 10,000 birds run by Surrey grower Mr Wilson-Churt. In December, Anthony Fisher’s eight cylinders were replaced by two 290-gallon tanks.
Back with feed, the introduction of the first King rail (from Geo W King Ltd, Stevenage) gave improved in- house feed handling. And, the first plastic giant feed hoppers appeared – the Pretty Polly invented by T.S. Ware who, after three years in the industry, had a 25,000-bird unit at Andover.
Among the companies, Poultry Packers (Sussex) Ltd celebrated a year’s existence and chairman Anthony Fisher reported a weekly throughput of 8,000-10,000 birds, from farms owned by the 20 member suppliers. The company’s marketing chief was now Tony Pendry.
Birds Eye was advertising for live broilers to be processed at Norwich. And, Quantock Poultry Packers, Bridgewater, raised its plant throughput from 1,500 to 2,500 birds a week. Installing automatic equipment permitted the expansion without raising staff numbers from the 10 – person level.
On a national scale, the Milford testing station announced that it was to undertake broiler trials, to assess available strains. And, the growers formed an association – BBGA (British Broiler Growers Association Ltd) At December’s Olympia Show, the BBGA organised the convention’s broiler papers, with expert nutritionist Dr Bill (Percy) Blunt, of BOCM, sharing the platform with Anthony Fisher and Tony Pendry. Among the exhibition displays, Neata showed its Powervent. It enabled variable fan control to be practised for the first time.
By the end of this year, the broiler industry had reached-integration and inflation apart – a format that has changed little since. It had its political association, advisory services, contract producers, technical conference papers and specialist suppliers. On the best units, stocking densities were down to 0.65- 0.75sq.ft/bird; houses had concrete floors, 18 inch fans, 1,000-bird brooders and the broilers reached nearly 4lb on FCRs of around 2.5:1.
For example, in 1957 intermittent lighting was recommended by George Bowlby: Western introduced its first Chickmaster 60,480-egg incubator: Eire imported trial batches of American Stock, based on the White Rock and White Cornish strains; BOCM launched its Broiler Feed 3-8-8. This 24% protein, combined-starter finisher, was designed to produce 3lb birds in 8 weeks from 8lb of feed or 4-10-10 ( 4lb-10 weeks -10lb); And, fixed crate table poultry transporters took to the road.
In 1956 PW had visited Alfred Peppercorn’s 13,500-bird unit in Warwickshire. In February of this year he was elected the first BBGA chairman. Membership stood at 120 and the council consisted of Mr Peppercorn plus George Bowlby, John Calcutt, Anthony Fisher, Major-General G.D. Fanshawe. G. Lyster, John Ogier, Tony Pendry, Eric Reed, Lionel Regnart, John A.Trapman and Rupert Chalmers-Watson.
In later years Messrs Peppercorn and Chalmers-Watson were to reduce their broiler ties to become leading lights in the egg and turkey industries, respectively. But for the moment they figured brightly in broiler developments, Rupert Chalmers-Watson being head of Chunky Chick (Nichols) Ltd. New entrants in 1957 included Buchan Poultry Products (2,000 birds a week) and the Droitwich Processing concern – The Tropicalisation and Packing Company (formed by Godfrey Baseley of “The Archer’s fame) The era of the large and specialist advisory services had begun. Biggest was Broiler Services Ltd, run by John Ogier and Frank Grove, who took on Jim Shuttlewood (ex Canada and W.D. Evans) to help them service the production of J Sainsbury Ltd, Chartridge Poultry, the Essex Broiler Growers Association and others.
By the end of the year, national output stood at 40-50 million birds, depending on whose published guesstimate is accepted – virtually a 10-fold increase expansion in under five years.
The in between years
People – as individuals – were the key to the industry’s progress in the next 12 or so years – the “good old days’ of the UK broiler development. The independent nature and large numbers of growers, breeders and processors, curtailed the activities of any national association. And, the broiler business had not succumbed fully to the city dictates of the “smokers and soaps” brigade; nor was it troubled by government “interference”.
The net effect was to create cycles of slumps and peaks, as the industry lurched from crisis to crisis. But, the decade has fond memories for many, who appreciated the situation were husbandry expertise and entrepreneurial flair allowed the individual to make his or her mark.
Added to this, there was an element of excitement as expansion was the order of the day and the new American Cornish/White Rock strains were giving ever improving performance.
Further more, industry meetings/conferences were entertaining. The sponsors usually had substantial budgets. And, the audiences usually had a handsome sprinkling of outspoken characters who aired, often opposing, views unshackled by fear of upsetting their employers, competitors or semi-secret arrangements. Genetics, hybrid strains and large scale franchise operations began to dominate chick production – taking over from the traditional breeder and his crosses.
At the start of the 1958 – 1969 period the breeding giants were Sterling Poultry Products Ltd and Chunky Chicks (Nichols) Ltd, with E.F. Fairbairn Holdings Ltd also prominent. But within only a few years Associated Broiler Breeders and, later, Cobb Pedigree Chicks (UK distributors) were to make there presence felt.
In 1958 Sterling Poultry products Ltd sold a massive 13 million chicks including 7 million Silver Supreme broilers. Chairman of the company (formed into a business in 1929) was George Belfield. His fellow directors were, R.Hunt, A.J.H. Bull, Vic Newman and Brodie Halford. The company also had interests in broiler processing and in 1961 it set up a subsidiary – Sterling Packers Ltd – to coordinate the marketing of 250,000 oven ready birds a week. Mr Belfield had Gordon Carter and John Metcalfe as fellow directors of this subsidiary.
However, only months later, the trawler and frozen food concern – Ross Group Ltd – made a £3 million bid for the Sterling breeding and processing operation. After the bid was improved slightly, the Sterling directors accepted in Spring 1961 and Mr Belfield retired in June.
In 1962 the Ross-Sterling breeding side was expanded by the purchase of Spinks of Easingwold and the sales director, Lord Edward Fitzroy put company output at 30 million chicks a year. The biggest step in this direction came in December of that year when Ross chief Carl Ross announced his takeover of the Fairbairn-Chunky enterprise. This trebled the Ross-Sterling output as Fairbairn-Chunky was the UK’s largest breed of broilers, with 110 breeding farms, two giant hatcheries and an output of 60 million chicks a year.
Chunky Chicks (Nichols) Ltd and E.F. Fairbairn had only been together themselves for some six months. Chief of the former, Rupert Chalmers-Watson had been developing his business rapidly, opening new headquarters and a large (190,000 egg capacity) hatchery at Newbridge in 1959 and starting to build another large hatchery in Inverurie in the Spring of 1961. It was in this year that technical expert T.C. “Toby” Carter spent a year with Chunky Chicks (Nichols) Ltd, after helping to develop Western Chicken Ltd and prior top moving to the top post at Edinburgh’s Poultry Research Centre. The Chunky 706 broiler was well established and a new male line 707P was under development.
In 1960 John Archibald had been appointed Chunky’s geneticist. And immediately following the 1962 Sterling-Ross-Chunky-Fairbairn tie up, Dr Bob Osbourne supplemented the genetic team. He had been with Hall Mark Hatcheries in Essex since 1958, when his appointment to Hall Mark represented the first UK full time geneticist and broiler hatchery link.
There were other important company developments in the 1958 -1962 sector. Notable was the foundation in 1958 of Associated Broiler Breeders, East Hanningfield, Essex. This concern was linked to Arbor Acres of Connecticut, USA, and had as directors Americans Sam Tepper and Henry Saglio plus John Ogier and the Reed brothers Guy and Eric. By 1962, the company’s general manager was turkeyman Derek Kelly and output exceeded 50,000 breeder pullets a year – a hefty slice of the market.
Also back in 1958 another major breeder began to bloom. In that year John Knowles launched the North Essex Broiler Co Ltd, Braintree. It was a broiler growing co-operative, with Mr Knowles supplying the chicks. In 1961 he linked up with Peter Beck forming Associated Chick Producers to franchise distribute Chunky broilers. But later that year they signed a franchise agreement with Cobb USA, forming Cobb’s Pedigree Chicks (UK Distributors) Ltd, which imported Cobb stock, via Sweden in February 1962.
Thus by the end of 1962 there were three major breeding strains – Arbor Acres, Chunky and Cobb, of which the first two had large market shares; Arbor Acres claiming a 60% share by late 1963. It remained a leading contender until 1970 when its outlets “vanished” in the Imperial Tobacco take over of Allied Farm Foods. The Chunky 706 was replaced in May 1965 by an improved model, the Chunky P. It was then supplemented by the Chunky H in June of that year. The H stands for Hubbard, denoting the new bird’s American background. At this time Ross-Chunky were distributing, also H&N stock; a joint venture which ceased toward the end of 1965.
By 1967 the Ross insignia was gaining emphasis and the Chunky Chick (Nichols) Ltd symbol was declining. In February, for example, the Chunky H was rechristened the Ross Chunky H. In 1968 it got a new male line and changed its name again to Ross 1. The Chunky P was also re-christened to become Ross 2. Ann Murray joined the Ross genetic team in 1967 and Rupert Chalmers-Watson (awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List) resigned, due to pressure of work, mainly associated with developing British United Turkeys. In the same month – November – chairman Carl Ross decided to take a less active role in the fishing, crisps, sauce and poultry combine he launched in 1920. Sir Alex Alexander became the Ross Group managing director.
In 1968 he appointed Tom Simpson (37) as managing director of the poultry empire. But only months later Mr Simpson resigned to become managing director of Transport and Chemical Engineers Ltd. He was succeeded by 40 year-old Lord Edward Fitzroy, and 30-year-old Struan Wiley became deputy managing director of the poultry business. Other Ross Group changes in 1968 included the resignation of I.M. Ambrose – to farm on his own – and in December Carl Ross’s decision to retire, which made Alex Alexander the Group’s chairman. One year later Imperial Tobacco successfully bid £47 million for Ross.
It was in the 1967-1969 period that the PPLO – free (now Mycoplasma) Cobb Clean Line emerged and began to push the company’s market share well above the 50% holding achieved by 1966 with the original Cobb UK importation.
By now John Knowles and Peter Beck had outgrown franchise status and they negotiated to become partners of a joint UK/USA company with exclusive rights to sell Cobb breeders in several overseas areas as well as Britain.
The Cobb Clean Line was to have been launched in a blaze of publicity at the 1967 Olympia show. But this December exhibition was cancelled at the last minute because a foot and mouth epidemic was sweeping the country.
By 1969 Cobb had begun to diversify into other livestock and associated pharmaceutical lines. And it went public, as the Anglia Food Group – investors paying 14s (70p) for the 1.2 million 2s (10p) per value shares. The big three – Arbor Acres, Cobb and Ross – were not alone in the 1960s; Shaver, Canada, linked up with Norfolk Breeder – hatcheryman Jim Ingram in 1962, importing the Starbro the next year. In 1967 geneticist Peter Hutton left Wye College to become Shaver Canada, research co-ordinator. In 1965 Gloucester hatchery Double A linked up with Peterson Farms Inc, USA, and introduced the first PPLO-free stock to Britain on January 1st 1966. During the early sixties PPLO had been contained by antibiotics such as May and Baker’s Rovamycin – introduced in 1962.
In 1965 F and G Sykes, Wiltshire, imported Ledbrest/Pilch via Dublin. The birds were available in England by 1967, but the arrangement was ended in 1969 when, in the States, Dekalb bought Pilch.
In 1966 Euribrid moved Hybro stock into Britain and three years later H&N took an importation of Meat Nicks into a Scottish quarantine farm. The parent stock of all these strains produced their eggs on the many independent broiler breeder farms. By the end of the 1958-1969 period they were becoming 5,000 bird units – in the early sixties, 1,500 breeders was the norm.
Some were larger still, such as A.M. and H. Rankin Ltd of Southend – on – Sea. Back in 1960 they already had 5,000-bird houses, where manager Stan Robson had installed automatic feeding, a slatted floor area, lighting and powered ventilation.
Growing and Processing
Early broiler trial facility 1959
At the beginning of the 1958 -1969 period, Poultry Packers (Sussex) Ltd, Western Chicken Ltd and Yorkshire Chicken Packers Ltd were the giants. It was in 1958 that Poultry Packers (Sussex) Ltd changed its name to become The Buxted Chicken Co Ltd. Directors of the newly named concern were Anthony Fisher, Tony Pendry, John Ogier and J. Christian. The firm had 200 employees and produced 15,000 oven-ready chicken a day. The main processing plant at Buxted, Sussex, had reached the 100,000–bird-a-week mark by 1959. That year, £15,000 was put aside for brand promotion and £250,000 invested in a new processing factory at Aldershot for 150,000 broilers weekly. Stanley Sutherland-Smith joined the company as marketing director as 1959 closed.
In May the following year -1960 – The Buxted Chicken Co Ltd went public, its 360,000 ordinary 5s (25p) shares selling for 14s (70p) each. And not long afterwards Buxted took over the then, only comparable enterprise – Western Chicken Ltd, with its giant Devizes hatchery and large Sutton Benger processing plant. And, Buxted also bought up Poultry Packers (Essex) Ltd.
By 1961 output was up to half a million birds a week and Guy Reed joined the Buxted board, when the Sussex company took over Yorkshire Chicken Packers which was owned by Guy and Eric Reed.
That year Spiller bought a 10% stake in Buxted and stood guarantee for a £500,000 loan, needed to form Poultrex Ltd. This company was to manufacture feed for the Buxted Chicken Co and be jointly run by Buxted, Spillers and a third party with links to the Reed’s Allied Farm Foods/Nitrovit business.
In 1962, Buxted opened a new 4,000 bird an hour factory in Boreham, Essex, and a new 100,000 a week plant in Dalton, Yorkshire. Supplies to these factories had been rationalised with 85% of the growers now on contract terms, which gave them a fee of 10.25d (4p) a bird, to cover production costs bar chicks and feed. In early February, the Reed/AFF/Nitrovit set up made a £1.5 million bid for Buxted, of which Guy and Eric Reed were directors.
The Spillers holding in Buxted didn’t auger well for the bid, from what amounted to a rival compounder. And, a week later Ross – backed by a proposed £1.5 million loan from Spillers – made a rival bid for Buxted of £1.85 million.
The result was an improved offer from Nitrovit of around £1.9 million, and by March the Reed brothers had won the battle. They continued to expand the Buxted company developing in 1967 a complex at Hartlepool which included a processing plant and 10 – broiler sites – each with 4 poultry houses to give 100,000 birds a site capacity.
Its output raised the Reed’s venture to 18 mills, 115 farms, six processing plants and six hatcheries capable of producing 40 million birds a year – about one-quarter of the 1967 market.
In 1968, Associated British Foods (Fine Fare) paid £21 million to take over Allied Farm Foods. This represented £2.75 – plus a share. The 700,000 shares apiece held by the Reed brothers and the 467,000 owned by Anthony Fisher were bought up, making all three millionaires.
A year or so later – early 1970 – Imperial Tobacco paid £19 million to Associated British Foods for Allied Farm Foods – which was added to Imperials 1969 purchase – for £47 million for the Ross Group.
The Ross broiler growing and processing set-up had its origins in 1961 when Carl Ross took over Sterling Packers – the broiler production – packing subsidiary of the Ross acquired Sterling Poultry Products Ltd. In 1962, this entry was built upon with the purchase of East Anglian Packers Ltd, whose Flixton plant became the first centre to market chicken under the Ross brand. By the year end, Ross sales director Sam Newington put his company’s throughput at 450,000 processed birds a week. Nine company owned and three partly owned processing factories handled the throughput.
With the eventual 1970 Imperial – Ross – Allied Farm Foods link up, some 70 million birds a year were in one basket – about 30-35% of the years national throughput.
Another big name of the decade was Sir John Eastwood, who operated a policy of establishing large concentrated – usually 140,000 birds a week broiler complexes throughout Britain. These enterprises were established with their own breeding farms, hatchery, feed mill, growing units and processing plant. There were giant laying quarters, as well as the broiler units on each complex.
In 1958 there was just one at Bilsthorpe in Nottinghamshire and it only had a 30,000 – a – week output of live birds. FMC attended to the processing, but things moved fast, Bilsthorpe becoming self-contained and in 1963 the Gainsborough, Lincolnshire complex was opened and £1million spent on a Thetford, Norfolk, location.
The following year – 1964 – saw the purchase of Pembrey airfield in Wales and a year later the Glenrothes, Scotland estate was purchased and a £4million complex was proposed.
Local opposition to the Glenrothes complex was officially overruled, but the authorities and objectors prevented three further proposed complexes; for Kent (1967) the Wirral (1968) and Cumberland (1969). Nevertheless by the mid-late sixties John Eastwood had a 20% share of the market, with an output of nearly 30 million birds.
North of the border another entrepreneur was expanding fast. Well established in the late fifties Danny Marshall was producing 50,000 oven ready birds a week by the early 1960s. In 1961 he opened a 100,000 broilers – a – week factory at Newbridge and went about seeking 80 grower/suppliers to supplement the 120 farmers who were already producing for him.
In 1968 Danny Marshall opened a giant hatchery in Kinross and the following year a new two – storey processing factory, costing £390,000 at Newbridge. Although not in full use, the Marshall capability was now 60,000 birds a day.
Other major broiler groups of today had their roots in the 1958-59 period. For example, in 1958 Lt Col Uvedale ”Streak” Corbett – chairman of West Midland Broiler Growers – reported that his association was producing 25,000 birds – a – week for processing by J. P. Woods Poultry Ltd. This represented about half the Shropshire processors throughput.
But in 1961, Col Corbett and his 50 producers erected their own processing plant in Hereford to handle 60,000 birds a week. The adopted name for the new company was Sun Valley. Two year later city giant Union International formed a joint venture with Sun Valley – Union paying £150,000 for its 50% share and appointing three directors B.F.C. Lamb, E.J. Bowater and J.A. Drable, Sun Valley’s three were Messrs Corbett, J.D. Bristow and E.C.S. Howard.
J. P. Wood for their part had 26 supply farms and a new £85,000 hatchery by 1963. And, the company went public as Midland Poultry Holdings in 1965. Three years later Unilever offered £3.6 million (18s/90p a share). The board of directors held 56% of the ordinary shares and they accepted. They were Charlie Wood, Brian Dale, Basil Wood, C. Marshall and Owen Davey.
The foundations and growth of some other groups were also covered by Poultry World whose pages recorded the following:
1958: Australian Burwood Gooderham gets his Kenninghall, Norfolk, farm up to 10,000 bird capacity. David Grieg Ltd, Kent open a 5,000 bird a day processing plant.
1959: Midland Broiler Producers (co-operative founded in 1958 by Ian Hughes) now having 1.5 million birds a year marketed by FMC. New 45-grower group set up to supply Yorkshire Egg Producers’ new 25,000 bird a week plant at Pocklington. Construction begins for a new J. Sainsbury processing plant at Bury St Edmunds.
1960: Suffolk producers start up a proposed 100,000 birds a week factory at Eye under the name of Pollastra, with Bill Green as chairman. Work begins on Europe’s largest processing plant a 240,000 a week factory at Diss, Norfolk, for Waverey Valley Poultry Packers. FMC’s new Brackley plant is now running. 1961: Chickpack processing plant at Carlisle under construction – joint venture between West Cumberland Farmers, Cavaghan and Gray Ltd and E.F. Fairbairn. George Mixer lands huge housing deal – £150,000 worth of buildings for Birds Eye in Norfolk. East of Scotland Broilers formed by nine growers producing 600,000 birds a year.
1962: Swifts open a £300,000, 130,000 bird, plant at Lincoln. Pollastra up to 20 growers producing 40,000 birds a week, as successful turkeyman Bernard Matthews acquires an interest and becomes director responsible for sales. FMC open a new hatchery at Quainton, near Aylesbury – capacity for 85,000 chicks a week.
1963: Yorkshire Egg Packers (YEP) up to 30,000 birds a week. Hinton Chicken Growers establish a co- operative processing plant, backed by ACCA – The Agricultural Central Co-operative Society.
1967: Lloyd Maunder open a new hatchery in Devon. Initial output is 62,000 birds a week but plans are in hand to raise output to 75,000. Site clearance begins for a 250,000 bird a week plant at Sun Valley.
1968: FMC add a £30,000 extension to their Brackley plant to produce chilled birds for Marks and Spencer. Kew House managing director John Craig now turning out 70,000 birds a week. Courtaulds pay £6 million for Moygashell in Ulster, which includes the Dungannon/Moy Park poultry set up.
1969: Ideal Table Poultry hold open day on their new 170,000 bird site. Company directors Freddie Gomme, Jack Silver and Gordon Felber are turning out 60,000 birds a week and have plans to expand 4-5 fold. Midland Poultry Holdings plan a £1 million broiler enterprise in Anglesey.
Broiler chick hatcheries also played a part in the decade’s broiler development. Organisations included the Bowling brother’s Campie Hatcheries – producing 80,000 day olds a week in 1968: the year Maurice Millard (Chicks) Ltd open a 150,000 chicks/week hatchery, replacing their original incubators destroyed in an April 1966 fire.
Additionally there was also the Kibworth hatchery enterprise W.D. Evans Ltd, which in 1962 spent £100,000 on new hatcheries at Diss and Taunton to give the company an output capacity of 160,000 chicks a week. In 1960 W.D. Evans Ltd had taken over Golden Produce whose chairman J.A. Caulcutt and his board were retained in office to operate their business. About five years later Fitch Lovell bought up the complete Evans- Golden Produce-J.H. Brown (Abbotshay) groups.
By 1958 the British Poultry Growers Association estimated annual output to be 60 million broilers, half produced by members of the Association. Its first conference at Eastbourne – was held in 1958 and more than 500 delegates attended.
In 1959, BPBA chairman Alfred Peppercorn’s estimate for annual output was 70-75 million, which rose to 100 million in 1960 and 140 -145 million in 1961.
This total was produced by 1200 -1300 members: 800 of whom were BCA members. The BPBA had become the British Chicken Association in 1961. In 1962 the industry hit a deep trough which cut back output to nearer 130 million.
It was 1964-65 before the expansion regained its momentum, by which time Buxted grower John Trapman was chairman of the BCA. In 1966 throughput reached 175 million and passed 200 million in 1967 when the BCA was chaired by Anthony Fisher. Membership fell that year from 776 to 667, as integration began to replace the independent grower.
However, by now an all-embracing poultry association had emerged – the FBPI, Federation of British Poultry Industries – whose chairman was Ross supremo Alex Alexander. The objective of the FBPI was to “speak for specialist production”. The BCA became an FBPI associate.
When Anthony Fisher left the broiler industry in 1969 output was in excess of 225 million broilers. Ian Hughes took over as BCA chairman and Col Corbett became FBPI chairman, which in December 1969 changed its name to the British Poultry Federation.
Throughout the 1958 – 1969 period there were a number of technical and personal developments, well worthy of mention. For example, shrink-wrapping was introduced in 1958 and brine freezing was in vogue around 1959 -1960.
A round broiler house was built for Prime Poultry Service, Weston Turville, in 1959: the year Huntingdonshire grower John Eggett was rapidly building units throughout the county, action which prompted the county council to attempt to levy rates on poultry buildings. And a curved roof house emerged in 1961 – the Pratten – the first of which was purchased by Midsomer Norton poultry.
That year Struan Wiley (and David Cree) returned from two years at the University of New Hampshire – a secondment from Chunky Chicks (Nichols) Ltd. Mr Wiley became personal assistant to Chunky director D.E.”Dai” Roberts. Also back from Canada that year was Marks and Spencer poultry expert Peel Holroyd, who became a lecturer at Harper Adams college.
In 1962 the Ministry of Agriculture announced that Fowl Pest compensation would cease on the 31st March 1963 and the eradication (slaughter) policy was to be abandoned in favour of voluntary vaccination with dead Newcastle Disease (ND) vaccine. Within months some growers were calling for live vaccines. Others had instigated vaccination teams, whose services could be purchased.
In the year to the end of slaughter policy there were 3,384 ND outbreaks resulting in the slaughter of about 11.5 million birds and the payment of £8,656,154 in compensation. Voluntary vaccination wasn’t really taken up while compensation was still available.
In 1964 the National Poultry Tests stopped their broiler testing as the facilities were required for layer trials. And Vic Hallam and Bob Harlow seemed to be dominating the new poultry house market (Hallam Group of Nottingham and Harlow Bothers Ltd).
The following year an accident at London airport killed, among others, the managing director of Glaxo and another director of that company. Glaxo dominated the vaccine supply industry with their bottles of Newcadin (ND), Myxlin (ND and IB) and Iblin (IB). Their poultry expert Philip G. Box was a regular conference speaker. The next year – 1966 – the 13th World Poultry Congress was held in Kiev in August and 31 British firms went behind the iron curtain to display their wares to 600,000 people passing through the exhibition gates. The London Olympia show in December was the 21st such exhibition.
Attracting interest at this time was spray insulation with self-sealing polyurethane of the cavities in poultry house walls. From Nottinghamshire, Noel Hempsall’s £35,000, manure drier was also in the news.
The Bobcat litter removing compact tractor appeared in 1967; Glaxo’s vaccines came out in sachets; Cyanamid introduced the growth promoter Payzone, SKF produced Eskalin and Dow launched the coccidiostat Coyden, and, Ford introduced the now-iconic Transit range of vans. Also that year, Fine Fare offered chicken to housewives at 2s 6d (12.5p) a lb – the lowest retail price of the time and equivalent to the prevailing wholesale prices.
In 1967 a silver salver was presented to BOCM chief poultry adviser Dr Blunt for 21 years service to the poultry industry. The 40 year search for the cause of Marek’s disease came to an end when Dr Peter Biggs isolated the herpes virus responsible. A vaccine went on trial in 1969.
As the period closed Gordon Johnson – Stephens made plans to launch an automatic eviscerator. Finally closing this chapter Poultry World took over the journal Poultry Farmer and Packer.
The seventies will be clearer in the minds of many of today’s poultry people. But a synopsis of the major developments illustrates the trends and occasions of the era – highlighting the consolidation of stock exchange interest, the effect of EEC dictates and recording the combined effort and control exerted by BPMA members: And, to note the industry’s – albeit sporadic expansion finally plateaued out in its 25th year.
Imperial Tobacco bought Allied Farm Foods: while Crosfield and Calthrop took a controlling interest in Kew House Farms. Sainsburys and Spillers formed a joint broiler (and egg) company. Unilever subsidiary Birds Eye pulled out of broilers.
Infectious Bronchitis, Marek’s and Fowl Pest all hit the headlines and a live IB vaccine was licensed in May. Later in the year a liquid-nitrogen-stored, chicken herpes vaccine became available and it was closely followed by the launch of a freeze dried turkey herpes Marek’s vaccine.
A major outbreak of Fowl Pest flares up – later known as the Essex 70. Initially supplies of dead vaccine were insufficient to cope with demand; so potency testing was relaxed to speed through more vaccine. But, as the year ended, live ND vaccine was approved and Continental manufacturers (and their UK agents) flew in live vaccine to meet a massive demand. ND outbreaks stood at around 2,500 as the year closed.
This year also saw Messrs Peter Dalton and Benny Bee merge their veterinary interests to form Beedal Laboratories.
Fowl Pest remains to the fore as the number of outbreaks headed to 7,000. On-farm vaccination policy changed as the year progressed. First there was a switch away from the new live vaccine to the established dead variety, which was providing extra protection. Then in August, the MAFF announced it was prepared to consider licence applications for the stronger La Sota strain. In no time at all, La Sota was in use.
Among the companies – Bibby pulled out of broilers, selling Waverey Valley Packers to Padleys for a reported £700,000: Pfizer Inc took over H&N and Intervet bought Poultry Biologicals; Ross bought up the 20 broiler sites and the hatchery, abandoned when Birds Eye pulled out of broilers in 1970. J.P. Wood got their £2 million Anglesey set up in motion, and the American Indian River broiler was flown in from Ireland. People in the news included William Eastwood – nephew of John Eastwood – who took over as Eastwood marketing chief from Peter Thompson, and Don Avery became head of the NFU’s poultry side, taking over from Basil Cook.
Meanwhile, the Poultry Stock Association changed its name to British Poultry Breeders and Hatcheries Association. The Chairman was John Lamotte, with Tom Bowling as vice chairman. The Broiler Hatchery sub-division was headed by Frank Ball.
Several breed developments took place this year as Cobb introduced its Gold Line and the Cobb Clean 2. The Hubbard bird arrived in the UK. Ross and Arbor Acres formed a joint company in the States. Euribrid announced their semi-dwarf broiler mother and maintained the Hybro would be available shortly from Mayfield, Maurice Millard and Quantock. Shaver launched the Super Starbro.
Broiler cages were under discussion and at Olympia five makers displayed cage units – Big Dutchman, Laco, Slamet, Fram and Swifts. Also topical was spray vaccination following the introduction of the Turbair. Marek’s breaks were occurring and Gumboro had been encountered, and the Italian oil-based ND vaccine had gained a foothold.
The year saw the loss of brooder pioneer Ron Mayes and William Cope of processing renown.
Off to Brussels to watch EEC developments for the British Poultry Federation was Keith Bordall – seconded from Ross for a year. Visiting the UK was Col Harland Sanders who came over to open the 100th Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet – in Brixton.
Fitch Lovell bought a quarter share of Colborn and Ross took over Country Stile of Ripon, buying the 240,000 bird a week enterprise from joint owners – Unilever, Union International and Poultry Enterprises Ltd. Joe Mossop was appointed Ross national broiler (and turkey) accounts manager. Dr Bob Gordon was awarded the CBE. A medical officer put polyphosphates into the national headlines. Dudley Thompson produced the first Broiler Bulletin.
At the beginning of 1973, broiler feed averaged £80 a ton. By September, it had reached a £100 per ton, where it remained for the rest of the year. Among the breeders, Ross cemented its dominance in terms of market share. Cobb’s parent company the Anglian Food Group, was taken over by merchant bankers Fitzwalter Wright. Hubbard parents now had a 5% share of the market.
Other new arrivals announced were Anderson, Babcock and the H&N Meat Nick. One departure was Pilch. In March Dekalb announced its intention to sell its Pilch breeding programme in the USA. In April, Euribrid was proclaimed as buyer. Pollastra purchased Anglian Food Group’s Occold hatchery, which would incubate eggs from the breeding farms Pollastra was establishing.
Ross tie up with Pilsbury Farms (the USA’s 10th biggest broiler company). In May they engage the services of a forward-looking geneticist Peter Hunton. Hubbard pass the 10% rung on the market share ladder. South African newcomer (Anderson) came to England in the Spring. But in May it changed it’s allegiance to Scotland’s D.B. Marshall.
The new Cobb 3/500 was over-shadowed by a pruning operation within AFG. Cobb became a streamlined set-up managed directly from the USA.
The number of broilers placed was also a major topic of conversation, in April, the Irish placed no chicks for a week to help rectify their market situation. The legality of such a move in the UK to equate supply to demand was unclear. The Minister of Agriculture indicated that broilermen should be able to do this but would not say they could.
The dangers of going ahead unsupported by the Government were highlighted in the USA, where several broiler companies were being investigated for alleged market fixing, nevertheless in June a 10% cut in placings did take place in the UK. In Autumn, even greater reductions in chick placings were made. Eastwood showed a lead in poultry meat exporting. In April it had its first EEC-standard packing station in operation. October saw the accidental death of Golden Produce chief David Brown in a plane crash.
Notable points of the year were Golden Produce changing its name to Farmers Table, Moy Park announcing plans for massive growth whilst Marshalls entered the breeder market. There was a knighthood for John Eastwood. Unfortunately, the year also had its bad moments: A Gumboro scandal, outbreaks of gangrenous dermatitis, non-starter broiler chicks, imported frozen chicken and hatching eggs.
Down on the farm. growers were battered by massive feed price increases and bewildered by Gumboro/Marek’s uncertainties. While up in the corridors of power the industry’s politicians were showered with regulations and peppered by Consumer Association surveys. Somewhere in-between the integrators wrestled with supply and demand and struggled with processing plant conversions.
In the news: Water restriction, genetic engineering and biological breeding, the aviary stock system, the return of shavings and the cost of feed going up to £30 were all topics discussed in the farming and general press throughout a difficult year.
Intermittent lighting attracted considerable interest, a heat wave reduced gas needs but demanded some ultra early chick deliveries to avoid the midday sun. EEC Directive 118 became a EU Regulation, but dry plucking escaped. For the first time in recent history the UK ceased to be a net importer of chicken with 15,000 tonnes exported.
Adenovirus (EDS’76) dominated the picture during 1977 and Gumboro concerns rumbled on, but growers enjoyed the welcome experience of a fall in feed prices during the second half of the year. Michael Lee won the BP/NFU broiler award for the third year running. Growing groups remained stable. Exceptions included the Thornhill/Union international partnership and the merger between Pollastra and Favor Parker. Reorganisation saw the loss of Pollastra’s guinea fowl operation. C & A Roberts devised a new catching system and Autosystems produced the Chickway unit for portions. ADAS promoted aviary housing for breeders and fluorescent lighting. As with the year before the industry exported over 250,000 tonnes of poultrymeat.
This article was taken from a Poultry World special edition, published in 1978 to celebrate the UK broiler industries silver jubilee, under the guidance of John Farrant who was editor at the time of the publication
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