Hybrid Poultry Farm – Far from Chickenfeed
Since 1961 Hybrid Poultry Farm has been breeding and rearing chickens in Zambia, with a business comprised of several facets. The company’s breeding stable offers three products, the Cobb Broiler, layers to be kept up to 85 weeks for egg-laying, and the coloured breed day old chicks. We talk to Zambia’s oldest & most established poultry farm.
Simon Wilde, Hybrid Poultry Farm’s Managing Director explains, “We have our grandparent operations where we bring in Cobb chicks from Europe to produce breeding stock for our eight breeding farms throughout Zambia. Those farms, in turn, produce the day-old chicks that we sell to small and medium scale customers and use in our integration, where we grow our own broilers, which we then process in our abattoir of up to 25,000 birds a day.”
Competing on Quality
Hybrid Poultry Farm is a fully integrated company that covers the whole process from breeding to producing processed chicken, which the company markets under two brands, Country Choice Chicken, for frozen products and Eureka, which is mainly fresh chicken and further processed products.
These products have carved out a competitive niche in the marketplace.
“A unique selling point with chicken is a difficult one as it’s a commodity, but we have managed to differentiate by being halal and are the only producer to have ISO FSSC 22000 food safety accreditation,” Wilde says. When it comes to our day-old chicks the differentiators are genetics, customer service, and our 59 years of experience.”
However, while Hybrid Poultry Farm has built itself a quality-based reputation, the market is in danger of being flooded with cheap imports.
“One of the biggest challenges we face at this moment in time is that while the government does not allow the importation of any finished chicken products, but they do however allow the importation of mechanically deboned meat (MDM)” Wilde points out. “This is a large hindrance to our business because of an upturn in demand for Hungarian sausages in the last two to three years made from this imported MDM. Currently, it is believed that 600 tons a week of MDM enters the country, pretty much the same as all the chicken production in Zambia from all companies. So, we’re working hard with the government, who are extremely sympathetic to the issue and are strongly considering doing away with the importation of this MDM.”
Unchecked, this could be a serious problem, as markets such as Kenya and South Africa have found with European or American companies dumping cheap poultry products into the market, but Wilde is convinced that close cooperation with Government in resolving this challenge will open up fantastic possibilities for the Zambian market.
“If we can stem the tide of MDM importation and turn that to into poultry farming, we would be adding throughout the value chain from the growing of crops that feed the chickens right to the end of the value chain,” Wilde tells us enthusiastically. “We are already pioneering the production of MDM and our own sausages with local products. There’s scope for growth in the Zambian agricultural sector especially in the poultry industry if we can turn off these imports.”
Hybrid Poultry Farm is a labour-intensive operation, employing over a thousand staff at the last count across all its operations.
“We work closely with the Ministry of Livestock and the University of Zambia to find suitable graduates. We also have a graduate programme running with four graduates being groomed for management positions across our two hatcheries and breeder farms,” Wilde says. “COVID has affected this year’s crop of graduates as we had to lock down all of our farms. Another six graduates are starting in the next two to three months. It’s a great tool to develop middle-to-upper management.”
“Our managers all come through the same in-house training and pass on their skills,” Wilde explains. “We’re in the process of rolling out a programme called BATOBA, (BAck TO BAsics). In which we embark on a new and updated company culture driven by the staff themselves. We are excited at the prospect of the creation of an online poultry academy for all staff to utilize within this program.”
COVID-19 has of course been in an issue in Zambia as elsewhere, although not to the same degree, with Zambia never undergoing full lockdown. However, while some extra precautions were put in place, in many ways the poultry business is custom-made to withstand the effects of a pandemic.
“With poultry, biosecurity is our biggest risk and we’re constantly vigilant to it,” Wilde says. “At all our locations you had to adhere to extremely rigid biosecurity protocols pre-COVID anyway. With that in mind, we had to put in social distancing measures and ban outside visitors, so it was relatively straightforward for us to lock down those locations. Our QA team worked to monitor employee temperatures daily and I am very glad to say we’ve had no positive tests up to this point.”
Poultry is a highly competitive field, with four competitors in Zambia’s processed chicken sector and five on the day-old chick market.
“We’ve seen the demise of three competitors in the last four years,” Wilde says, but he is optimistic about Hybrid Poultry Farm’s own performance. “We’ve invested heavily in environmentally controlled chicken houses that should lead to a lower production cost and ensure the consumer enjoys a competitive price. The future is about bird welfare and food safety while sustaining demand. There is an opportunity in food safety, and we will continue investment in accreditation, quality assurance and attaining world-class quality chickens for our customers.”