The Netherlands: world leader in poultry technology

  • Bolidt Food Magazine Piet Simons

    The Netherlands: world leader in
    poultry technology

Bolidt News

INTERVIEW with poultry EXPERT DR. IR. PIET SIMONS

Bolidt has been working for large clients in the international poultry industry for many years. The basis for this success lies in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is known as the most important poultry country in the world. Billions of eggs and millions of kilos of chicken meat are exported abroad every year. Important innovations in poultry technology come from Dutch companies. What explains the success of the Dutch poultry industry? An interview with former researcher and widely recognized poultry expert Piet Simons.

Piet Simons grew up in a small Dutch village on a chicken and pig farm. Because one of his brothers took over the company from his father, he had to do something else. He went to study at the Agricultural University in the city of Wageningen and still ended up among his beloved chickens. As a scientific researcher, he experienced up close how the Dutch poultry sector experienced enormous growth through all sorts of innovations. Simons: "Take the egg chain. When I was a little boy, hens laid around 150 eggs a year. Nowadays they lay 330. That is thanks to sophisticated breeding programs. By going further with chickens with the best production figures, Dutch breeders have lifted the egg chain to a much higher level."

Today, the Dutch poultry industry consists of an impressive collection of poultry farmers, suppliers and service providers. Together they represent an annual turnover of 5.4 billion euros. The sector can be divided into two production chains: eggs and meat. The egg chain consists of around 1,000 companies that produce 11 billion eggs annually. Around 60% of this is exported, in particular to Germany. The approximately 1,000 companies in the meat chain produce around 1 million tons of chicken meat every year. About 65% of this goes abroad. Both production chains consist of many companies that are mainly concerned with propagation, breeding and production. The technology suppliers annually account for 2.1 billion in revenue. Around 75% of their products – incubators, egg sorting machines, integrated housing systems and slaughter machines – go abroad. The Dutch suppliers thus jointly have an important worldwide market share.

Strong knowledge infrastructure

According to Simons, the robust development of the Dutch poultry industry can be attributed to various factors. "After the Second World War, the Dutch Government invested in scientific research, information and education. This has yielded a great deal of knowledge and a strong knowledge infrastructure that poultry farmers and suppliers still benefit from. In addition, the Dutch poultry industry has always had to deal with action groups that stood up for animal welfare and the environment. Protests have never been so strong in any other country. Because of that pressure, Dutch companies have continued to innovate. Finally, the Netherlands is of course an export country. We trade our knowledge and products to countries all over the world. And that also applies to the poultry sector."

Thanks to the knowledge infrastructure that was created, small companies of poultry farmers – in many cases starting in a barn – could grow into real companies, according to Simons. He says that Moba, manufacturer of machines for sorting, packaging and processing eggs, is a good example. "Poultry farmer Job Mosterd developed his own egg sorting machine in 1947 and then continued to perfect it. The result is impressive; today about 80 percent of all egg sorting machines in the world come from this company. Isn’t that fantastic! Vencomatic is another good example. In 1983, poultry farmer Cor van de Ven came up with a pioneering invention in his barn: the first automated laying nest for hens producing for the meat industry. That company now has more than 350 employees and is a global supplier of innovative systems for setting up poultry farms. Ab Jansen also developed an automated laying nest for these hens in 1986. His company, Jansen Poultry Equipment, is nowadays known worldwide as a supplier of innovative poultry systems. Gerrit Pas already invented an incubation system in 1919, thereby laying the foundation for Royal Pas Reform, nowadays an international supplier of incubators. I could go on, there are numerous examples."

Number 1

For every issue in the poultry industry a  Dutch company has come up with a solution. Simons is confident in taking up that position. "The Netherlands is the world's most important innovator when it comes to sustainable production technologies in the poultry sector. We have made important inventions in the field of energy saving, reduction of greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions, improvement of animal welfare, food, processing of manure, tracing and preventing diseases and monitoring food safety. Furthermore, our country is at the forefront of breeding and development of incubators, egg sorting machines, integrated housing and pharmaceutical products for chickens. We are just the number 1 in the world."

The Netherlands is also an important supplier of high-quality slaughter machines that are exported worldwide. With the increasing international demand for chicken, the demand for faster and more efficient slaughter machines also increased. Nowadays, chicken processing is fully automated and pays attention to animal welfare: from numbing the chicken to packaging the clean end-product. Through various innovations, Dutch suppliers, such as Meyn, have not only made slaughter more animal-friendly, but also more sustainable. The equipment needed to process chicken bred for the meat industry has started to consume less energy over the years.

As true innovators, Dutch companies stood at the cradle of many pioneering innovations in poultry technology. Recently HatchTech in Veenendaal devised the ‘early feeding’ system. "A wonderful new development," says Simons. "After about 21 days of incubation, the chick comes out of its egg. Before the animal has access to food and water, it must first be transported to the broiler house. In practice, this means that it can be without water and food for several hours, just at the moment where important nutrients and moisture are crucial for its development. A chick can still get food from the yolk to which it is still connected by the umbilical cord, but Dutch researchers discovered that it is much better to feed and water the animal immediately after hatching. This ensures a healthier chick and less mortality during those first days. Early feeding is good for the development of the stomach and intestines of chicks. This ensures better food intake and a stronger immune system. This can limit the use of antibiotics."

Vaccination of embryo

Another important Dutch innovation is the detection and vaccination of living embryos in eggs. The company Viscon, which specializes in hatchery automation, has developed a new ‘in-ovo vaccination machine’ for this. With this method, vaccines are injected into the amniotic fluid of the egg. The new machine detects and removes non-viable embryos, only vaccinates the living embryos and then transports the vaccinated, viable eggs to the hatching department. Non-viable eggs can contain pathogenic bacteria; removing them therefore improves hygiene at a hatchery. Simons: "This method can save on vaccines, because only the viable eggs are vaccinated. The most important advantage, of course, is that the chicks are already given their vaccinations at the hatchery and therefore arrive well protected at the broiler holder. They then have to carry out fewer vaccinations. This way, the chicks can grow beautifully undisturbed."

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