The award, now in its 16th year, is judged on the progress made by relative newcomers to the industry, of all ages, through workplace training. It also looks at their plans to develop their careers.
The talent, enthusiasm and ambition of entries for the 2022 Zoetis - NFU Poultry Trainee Award – coming from across the egg, poultry meat and pedigree sectors – augurs well for the future of the industry.
The judges – Lucy Berriman and John Kenyon from Zoetis and Jo Travis and Liz Warner from the NFU – were looking for entrants who had benefited from training to further their career in the industry, had a vision of their future and knew how they would spend the £2,000 training grant sponsored by Zoetis.
Production manager at Avara, Dominic Lucas, was announced as the winner during a breakout poultry session at NFU Conference 2023. He intends to spend the money on bird welfare courses.
In the autumn all of the finalists will be invited as guests to attend the Egg & Poultry Conference held at the Celtic Manor Hotel, in Newport – a new feature of the award this year.
Meet the finalists
The three finalists were Dominic Lucas of Avara Foods, Hereford, Rebecca Goodings of Noble Foods, Lincoln and Veronica Crawford of The Lakes Free Range Egg Company, Penrith, Cumbria.
Dominic Lucas grew up on a smallholding managing sheep and decided to study for a degree in agriculture at Harper Adams University. His placement year at Cargill as the British Poultry Council scholar shaped his future.
He returned to Avara Foods on its graduate programme as one of the first of his graduate cohort to be offered a permanent position. He gained experience first on a broiler breeder rearing site for 50,000 parent stock. Then he moved into broilers, becoming assistant manager of a site for 230,000 birds. He went on to manage the firm’s Parkway farm with 230,000 broilers where he produced its highest margins – 145 p per square metre – and two crops with an EPEF over 420, the highest scores on record there.
Just as he was settling into this role, an opportunity arose in the contract production management team where he is now responsible for 28 farms within the broiler grower base.
His main role is to grow the company’s relationship with these farms – ‘ensuring they meet our growing standards and focus on the bottom quartile performance using action plans presented to the team monthly’.
Jamie Shattock, regional manager for broilers at Avara Foods, said: “Dominic has developed his communications skills so that he can hold difficult conversations with owners when necessary, such as discussing financial and management issues. He has a very good understanding of broiler key performance indicators which helps him to improve the bottom quartile growers.”
“Dominic demonstrates pride in what he does and wishes to impart that on to others he is training.”
Jamie Shattock, regional manager for broilers at Avara Foods
Building skills and knowledge
He has benefited from a wide range of training from various providers, including Poultec, on practical and people skills in the company’s graduate programme. Now, for instance, he carries out compliance, biosecurity and brooding audits on farms – even coccidiosis scoring to identify different strains of cocci. Currently he is undertaking his ILM level 5 in leadership and management.
“Dominic is a highly credible, well-grounded person who has achieved a great deal at Avara and is an exemplary role model for the younger farming generation,” added Jamie Shattock. “He demonstrates pride in what he does and wishes to impart that on to others he is training. I believe Dominic is an ambassador for the future of the poultry industry.”
Transparancy key to educating the public
Dominic believes the industry should be more transparent about what it does and how it operates. He cites the example of slower growing broilers, which are stocked less intensively in the shed and not thinned.
“Farms are enjoying growing these broilers as there is less pressure on the birds, on sheds and on the farmers,” he said. “If all farms were to use the slower-growing bird, it would paint a much better picture of the industry to the public.”
In using the training grant he expresses a desire to travel to a country that grows chickens in a hot climate to understand how they deal with the conditions, so lessons can be learned on how to cope with extreme temperatures as experienced in the UK last summer. He has also identified several courses in Belgium this autumn on specific aspects of bird health and management.
After several years in retail, Rebecca Goodings decided it was not for her and looked for a career working with poultry. She became assistant manager on a large pullet-rearing site in Oxfordshire for Noble Foods, when a new opportunity arrived for her to demonstrate her potential.
When illness affected her team last year, she took on sole responsibility for managing the farm. “I had to learn things very quickly and I very much enjoyed the challenge of running the farm,” said Rebecca. At the same time she was passing audits for the Lion Code, the Environment Agency and Freedom Foods, and carried out three depletions and two chick intakes.
Her performance impressed her manager Jean-Paul Michalski, head of agriculture-retail for Noble Foods. “Rebecca is one of our rising stars,” he said. “We are excited to have her in the team and to be able to support her development and career.
“It is great for Rebecca to be recognised. Our loyal teams are the lifeblood of our business and the wider poultry industry, unsung heroes that often don’t get the recognition they deserve.”
She is working on the Poultry Technician Level 3 course due for completion in the autumn. Her training adviser, Scott Hughes of Poultec Training, commends her ability to adapt to changes in her role. “When Rebecca had to take responsibility for the farm, she stepped up to ensure that all responsibilities were met without any compromise to her training.”
“Rebecca is one of our rising stars.”
Jean-Paul Michalski, head of agriculture-retail for Noble Foods
Educating the future generation of producers
She feels passionately that career opportunities in the industry should be more widely known, particularly among schools and parents.
“I think going into schools for talks about how they get their food, and showing them the industry and its various sectors, would be a good idea. Showing them the appealing side of poultry, hatching and chicks, the ability to move into higher roles, the stock person’s role, customer-based roles, feed milling and opportunities to see all aspects of the poultry industry, even for travelling around the world.
“If we invite parents to join in the talks, they would also see what fantastic opportunities this industry offers. I’m sure we’d get more young people involved.”
Benefits of social media
She also sees a role for social media. “There is very little on social media about commercial poultry. Clearer imaging of a bird’s life cycle should be shown, people need to see inside the sheds to see where the chick’s life begins – from the egg, to rearing and laying on, to having their scrambled egg in the morning.”
Rebecca has always worked in rearing, hence her desire to learn more about other sectors of the industry to help her develop her career into potentially area management. She would look to use the training grant to further her poultry knowledge.
With her previous experience in retail, she feels this could be an asset to her in the longer term to take advantage of sales opportunities in the poultry industry: “To make a real difference to a product – whether a breed, vaccine or something new I Iearned about on my way – would be my dream,” she said.
Veronica describes herself as ‘a city girl who liked dogs’ which led her to study animal care and on to an agricultural course at SRUC Ayr Land Based College. After the first year she decided that the course, with its arable content, was not for her and took a job in the care sector.
She soon discovered she was missing the involvement with animals. She started looking around and found a job for a poultry worker with Aviagen. “I worked on a pedigree breeding farm and found it fascinating,” she said. “I had to learn everything but I was keen.”
Indeed, to begin a career in poultry with pedigree breeding is itself a challenge. Yet after six months she was asked to consider applying for the team leader’s position. She began in a development role, after three months became team leader and within 12 months began training to be an assistant manager. “I was loving the constant development under my manager’s wing,” she said.
Then the real opportunity came when her manager was away from work for four months after an accident. “This was very challenging and I had to learn lots – and quickly.”
“Veronica lights up the room with her knowledge and passion for poultry farming.”
Andy Gotts, Poultec training adviser
When the manager returned, Veronica missed the extra responsibility and challenge. She looked for other responsibilities and applied for a farm manager’s job with The Lakes Free Range Egg Company. She began looking after 16,000 free range hens and another 6,000 in organic production, but with expansion on site she is responsible for 29,000 hens. Now she is also on-call duty manager for all the company’s farms, staff and welfare.
Veronica completed a Level 3 Poultry Technician course with Poultec Training in October. Her training adviser Andy Gotts stated:
“Every time I speak to Veronica she just lights up the room with her knowledge and passion for poultry farming. Even though she is relatively new to the industry, you would think she has been doing it as long as I have!”
She believes more should be done to show how the poultry industry has developed over the past 30 years to improve bird management and welfare – and now increasingly to benefit the environment.
“As an industry, we are helping improve conditions for our hens but also supporting positive changes to the environment by investing in tree plantation and wild flowers. It improves the ranges for our birds to express natural behaviour and also increases sustainable biodiversity within the farm. One particular study showed we have over 40 different native species of butterflies and moths thriving on our site.”
In looking to developing her career, she would like to broaden her knowledge of the industry with the aim of becoming head of agriculture at area management level within a large company like where she now works – supporting people on company farms but also hundreds of contract producers. She adds: “I also have a desire to return to university to do my BSc in poultry science.”