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Boosting performance through production and plant partnership

Producing and slaughtering broilers are not two separate stand-alone activities. The opposite is true. Close 
involvement and cooperation will enhance productivity 
and quality, thus also meeting consumers’ demands.

By Fabio G. Nunes, 
processing consultant, Brazil

In the poultry business, the plant and production department enjoy a continuous and dynamic in-company client-provider relationship. Consequently, decisions made at the live production level may reflect directly on the plant’s performance. These effects are not detected instantly. Most often, they are seen either further down from their moment of their origin or, even worse, when the live loads arrive at the plant, when it will be then too late to remediate eventual mistakes.

For this reason, the relationship between live production and plant no longer can be managed as a plain interface between two secluded areas – production and plant – a misguided, but still common approach. Instead, their management requires a holistic approach as to deeply integrate them both to end up with production plus plant.

Communication channel
To be successful and productive, this integration requires the establishment of a strong and effective communication channel between the internal provider (live production) and its internal client (plant). All this in the context of an operational environment, where the live production department must be strategically oriented by the processing department’s requirements, given it is the core business of any poultry processing company. Consequently, the performance and goals of the live production department does not have an end in themselves, but rather are the means to secure every day the raw material that fully accomplishes the plant’s requirements, thus contributing to maximise its performance and company’s bottom-line. In a figurative way, the live production department must spin the PDCA cycle, or Deming Cycle, every day – being fully aware of what the raw material’s requirements are (planning); working hard to fulfil them all every day (doing); collecting feed-back from its internal client on the performance of the raw material through an open, pro-active communication channel (checking), and using this feed-back to upgrade the performance of the raw material (acting).

Safe final product
In fact, what are the plant’s requirements? As to comply with the ever stringent and evolving markets’ and clients’ requirements, the plant needs raw material that was produced in compliance with animal welfare guidelines. That is healthy, but free of undesirable residues or contaminants; that is free of major skin and paws defects; that was grown to the specs, that underwent a consistent, trustable feed withdrawal programme and is capable to come up with a safe final product at the end of the line.

Animal welfare has been consolidating its importance within the animal protein industry around the world to a point that it became a key-prerequisite to access some markets (domestic and overseas). The meat industry was first awaken from its latency towards the issue by means of the noisy, active and, sometimes even aggressive animal rights activists groups around the world, especially in the US and EU.

Two lessons
After the initial stupefaction and turbulence, the industry finally embraced the matter with devotion and seriousness, but just lately realising it could ripe significant economic benefits from the adoption of humanitarian practices in the handling of animals along the production and processing chains. It learned that nicely-cared broilers (and all the other meat animals) are more productive, thus cheaper to produce. Furthermore, they tend to present lesser defects in the carcass, therefore are less likely to salvaging and to produce downgrades, reducing losses while increasing saleable weight, competitiveness and profitability.
These two lessons, which are of great economical relevance, as live broilers represent some 69% of the total processing costs, led the companies to give the animal welfare a strategic treatment, well demonstrated by recent actions from industry and governments around the world. In Canada, Maple Leaf, a leading animal processing conglomerate, recently appointed an animal wellness director; in Switzerland, Nestlé is working in partnership with World Animal Protection to improve and tighten its commitment to the Farm Animal Welfare programme. And in Germany, the government of Lower-Saxony, the leading broiler producing state, has introduced stricter animal welfare rules.

Matter of time
The world poultry industry has it clear in mind that their livestock’s health is the number one priority. Without this, poultry companies would never be 
productive, competitive or profitable. Consequently having companies elbowed out of business, would be just a matter of time. However, the health of birds must be pursued and guaranteed no longer by means of excessive dependence on the (ab)use of antibiotics, whose impact on human health has been the core of inflamed, yet-inconclusive debates among industry, market players, society and government, but through sound production practices, preventive measures and trustable, consistent biosecurity programs, instead. This approach has been gaining important support around the world from leading chicken producing companies. Recently, Perdue, a US leading chicken company, after a 12-year long project, banned the use of antibiotic from the hatchery and claimed in its website that “across our company, 95% of our chickens never receive any human antibiotics. The remainder may receive them only for a few days when prescribed by a veterinarian”.

Skin quality leading
Likely unacceptable by consumers around the world is the presence of residues of any kind, especially the health-harmful ones, in the chicken meat and meat products (Figure 1). The skin quality is determinant to the carcasses and parts grading. Therefore, its integrity will determine the percentage of salvage, for major defects, and the percentage of downgrades, for minor defects, which, altogether, will influence the volume of saleable weight and the production mix’s profitability.
The skin quality can be affected by 
several factors, like the increase of the placement density, which is rapid and cheap means to increase live production capacity, but also a proven cause of increase in the incidence of skin 

Nutrition is another factor that has a lot to do with skin quality. The use or not of organic minerals, high or low energy feed and proper balance of amino acids, among other requirements, will determine, to an important extent, the feathering and strength of the broiler skin and, therefore, how the birds will cope with the house environment’s challenges. Proper flock management prevents the shortage of water and feed, which is also a proven cause of skin problems, and feed restriction, usually associated with climate in some regions where controlled-environment houses are not a common resource, may impose some damages to the quality of the skin.

Males are more susceptible to skin problems than females, thanks to their slower feathering, for being more aggressive and for crouching for a longer time than females. In Brazil, skin problems are among the top-five causes of partial 
condemnations of carcasses at the plant, with cellulitis and dermatitis being the two most important ones.

Reduced mobility
Chicken feet and paws have gained an upscale status in the chicken products world trade, thanks to the seemingly endless demand from the Chinese market, which imported 511 thousand MT in 2013. However, the importance of the paws is not limited to the commercial environment, though. It plays a likely meaningful role in the live production environment, as well, given the mobility of the birds can be impaired depending upon the severity of the lesion caused by footpad dermatitis. The reduced mobility of the broilers may have a detrimental effect on their live performance and on their welfare, with serious cost and marketing consequences for the company. Therefore, preventive actions must be in place to prevent the occurrence, or to minimise the extension, of footpad dermatitis in the flocks, which might interconnect proper litter and environment management, nutrition and intestinal integrity and health.

Plant automation
With the continuous improvement in the socio-economic conditions in many countries around the world, labour availability to work in the processing of chicken has become more and more scarce and expensive, increasing the need for a growing degree of automation of the plants. Furthermore, the shift in the demand profile for exporting chicken products, growing presence of fast food chains, higher demand for controlled portions, etc., has been demanding a greater concern about the uniformity of the flocks sent to be processed. In such an environment, those birds within the lower and upper tails of the commercial range, loose their market value significantly, consequently impacting, negatively, the companies’ bottom line. Therefore, the flocks’ uniformity became priority for the chicken companies. As a rule of thumb, a flock is considered uniform when 80% of the birds are within ±10% of the average live weight. Failing to meet this requirement might affect several other areas of the processing chain like hanging, stunning, killing, scalding and plucking, automatic evisceration, chilling and automatic cutting and deboning, with a detrimental impact on products’ quality and yield.

Proper bird management
Broilers must undergo a well-managed and trustable feed withdrawal programme prior to be slaughtered, thus reducing the risk of contamination during the evisceration and minimising the chances of economic penalties inflicted by the salvaging of contaminated carcasses. The best results at plant are achievable when birds remain between 8h and 12h off feed prior to hanging. Along this period of time birds experience an inherent live weight shrinkage, which, depending upon the environmental conditions may well vary between 0.35% and 0.50% per hour off feed. Therefore, the greatest challenge 
of the feed withdrawal programme is properly balancing the cleanliness of the gastrointestinal tract of the birds and the weight shrinkage, protecting the product’s safety and the company’s bottom line.

Foodborne contamination
According to the World health Organization (WHO), enteric problems kill about 2.2 million people annually around the world. Of this total, 70% of the deaths are attributable to the consumption of food contaminated with Salmonella and Campylobacter, and ingestion of contaminated water as well. In the US the situation is likely dramatic, with an estimated 48 million people sickened by foodborne contamination annually, resulting in 128,000 hospitalisations and 3,000 deaths. 
Furthermore, the economic cost resulting from the foodborne diseases reaches billions of dollars annually in the whole world. Thanks to its massive consumption and to the fact that Campylobacter and chicken is the number one pathogen-food combination in terms of annual disease burden in the EU and USA, chicken meat has gained an under-the-spotlight position in this scenario. 
Good reason to realise that the safety of chicken meat and products demands an endless joint effort between production and processing.

[Source: World Poultry Vol 30 nr 10, 2014]


  • Broilers must undergo a well-managed and trustworthy feed withdrawal programme prior to being slaughtered.

    Broilers must undergo a well-managed and trustworthy feed withdrawal programme prior to being slaughtered.

  • Feet and paws have gained an upscale status, thanks to the seemingly endless demand from the Chinese market.

    Feet and paws have gained an upscale status, thanks to the seemingly endless demand from the Chinese market.

Fabio Nunes


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