New barn for laying hen farmer Eric Hubers
It is actually a miracle that Eric Hubers, in addition to his extremely busy schedule of activities as LTO/NOP's* department chairman for poultry farming, also manages to be a laying hen farmer with 135,000 chickens. He recently replaced two of his five barns with the Red-L aviary system in one large barn.
Eric Hubers (53) has been the Poultry farming group chairman at LTO/NOP for seven years now. He considers it essential that the interests of the sector are represented by someone who really understands what he is talking about, as the issues involved are often complex. Eric: ‘My motto is ‘by and for farmers’. After all, you can only provide good and effective advocacy for poultry farmers if you are a poultry farmer yourself.’
It requires a lot of time and energy for Eric to be the group chairman, but he also finds it fascinating. ‘You talk to governments, NGOs, animal rights organisations, you name it. You get to see beautiful places and in unique circumstances. With the last outbreak of H5N8, for instance, I unexpectedly sat at the table with the king. Willem-Alexander wanted to know exactly what the situation was with the bird flu.’ So it's nice work, but because of the great responsibility, it's also hard work. When Eric talks to the minister, he feels the pressure. ‘You want to do it right because there's a lot at stake. Everyone relies on you; you are claimed by everything and everyone. It's pretty demanding, especially in a crisis like bird flu or fipronil.’
Eric is successful as a poultry farmer and as the group chairman in no small part thanks to his wife Marga (55). ‘The chairmanship means that I've been away from home a lot in the last seven years. Marga takes care of the lion's share of the work. We run this poultry farm together, but Marga is actually the director of our company.’ The fact that all three of the children are a little older now also makes things a little easier. The youngest is 21 years old and is studying Animal Sciences in Wageningen and may eventually succeed them, but for the present Marga and Eric are continuing to run the company.
Well thought out
Until April 2019, the Hubers family had five barns with 125,000 laying hens. They received a broader permit in 2018, which means they could expand up to 135,000 chickens. Two barns were demolished to make way for one large barn. This created space for 70,000 free-range and 65,000 barn chickens. For the five older barns - two of which have now been demolished - Eric chose the Red-L aviary system at the time. ‘Twenty years ago I went to see Lammy and Roelof Pol, the inventors of Red-L, and I thought: “They had given this a lot of thought.” It was all very new at the time, but I had immediate confidence in it and I was willing to accept any teething problems.’
As in nature
Besides teething problems, things worked out well. However, it was necessary to learn exactly how chickens behave in this aviary system. They decided to restrict the chickens on this system with nets and gauze so that they could not reach the ground, but that was not necessary at all. Eric: ‘We were used to that confinement from the cage systems. We wondered if the hens were going to do what they are supposed to do if they were sitting on the ground. Now we only restrict them in the beginning so they can't get under the system on the ground.’ What was immediately noticeable was that the hens can move safely and easily through the system. In a row system, the animals move vertically from level to level, but in Red-L they jump straight ahead from level to level without too much effort, just as they do in nature. ‘At the end of the day, the chickens in particular benefit from this. Recently the last flock was depopulated left at 97 weeks and for these less active animals it is nice to be able to easily jump from level to level.’
High ground clearance
Another advantage Eric mentions is that Red-L is a portal system with few poles. ‘Few poles require a large span and that is only possible if you use a heavy frame. We therefore see it as a heavy construction that will last a long time. Few poles mean a high degree of ground clearance: the chickens can walk fairly freely on the ground from one side of the barn to the other, while it is also easy for us to clean.’ Erik is happy overall and he also speaks highly of the overview that Red-L provides: ‘The structure of the system makes it easy to control the flock. First I have a look at the top, then I have a look at everything from the ground up; then I’m sure that I’ve seen it all.’
Eric is satisfied with the Red-L aviary system from Vencomatic Group. However, it was not entirely certain that Red-L would again be used for the large new barn replacing the two older barns. ‘During the construction of our new barn, I started to do research on the aviary systems available on the market. There are some good systems available from Dutch suppliers. But in the end I decided to go for Red-L again. The positive experience with the system in my barns was the deciding factor. Also, the latest generation Red-L can also be equipped with Q-Perch, the mushroom-shaped perch with a power cable on both sides of the underside to eradicate poultry mites.
Under own supervision
The Hubers family built the latest generation of Red-L in their new barn under their own supervision. Eric: ‘We do it ourselves, but we have access to support from the Vencomatic Group. They provide interim coordination, consultation about the design and about possible adjustments.’ Eric thinks it's only logical for the cooperation to proceed this smoothly, because he and Vencomatic Group have known each other for twenty years. ‘I often see that technicians are working in the field from the very beginning. Yes, they know exactly what they are talking about and that's why the installation of Red-L in our new barn is now running smoothly: we are doing it in our own way, in consultation with Vencomatic Group.’
* (Dutch trade union for poultry farmers)