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“What matters is not to be the biggest, but to be the best”

In June 2015, the small hatchery ‘Incubant’ in Colombia started with its first hatch, supplying chicks for the brand ‘PolloCoa’. One and a half year later, Incubant and PolloCoa representatives alike share their experiences and opinions on how they turned the hatchery operation into a success story. 

Meet the interviewees:

Why did your company switch from buying day-old chicks to hatching them?

Santiago Correa R.:‘Carnicos y Alimentos’ is a company created about eight years ago. It processes and commercializes chicken meat, ranging from whole chicken to processed chicken, under the brand PolloCoa. PolloCoa is since 44 years a major food brand in Colombia.

Our fattening farms of Carnicos y Alimentos used to buy day-old chicks and raise and process them. But in order to guarantee a consistent quality and supply of day-old chicks, we decided to start with our own hatchery in June 2015, named Incubant. Running our own hatchery gives us several advantages: we accommodate the demand for safety and traceability of consumer products and the according legislation better. We guarantee that our products comply with the desired environmental and bio-security norms, because we control different shackles of the production chain from the laying farms to the fattening farms. It also allows us to be as close as possible to our customers.

Moving away from buying day-old chicks to setting up your own hatchery operation is a pretty significant step.

Santiago:Indeed. But now that we have taken this step, we are benefitting in terms of cost and productivity. The Colombian poultry industry is growing with increasing speed, but we see our company growing twice as fast as the market. We are convinced that this is thanks to the quality and the freshness of the product that the PolloCoa brand is offering. With our new hatchery, we ensure that PolloCoa keeps advancing in the most sustainable way for many more years to come.

There were of course quite some doubts when we discussed the decision to set up our own company, as there would be when thinking about starting a new business model. But we could rely on a team of professionals around us who gave us the assurance and support we needed to achieve our goals and get the project on track. With a solid reputation, promptness in the provision of information, a good follow-up and the right expertise for making the decision, we found a great supplier who finally met our expectations in Petersime.

The construction works in 2014 - 2015: from wilderness to hatchery

The investments for setting up a hatchery are quite significant. How did you estimate the return on investment? How do you follow up whether this return is achieved?

Santiago:We carried out a pre-feasibility study where we looked at various indicators in the production in line with what Petersime was offering us. We looked at hatchability levels and at chick quality in particular, as good chick quality results in lower mortality and better growth of the birds. In the end, you can only calculate the return of a good hatchery operation further down the slaughter line. I am very happy to say that we have achieved, and even exceeded, our hoped-for expectations.

Margarita Cadavid: That is right. Within our hatchery operation, we measure the hatchability rates and aim to exceed the breeder standard by 2%. We are very happy to say that we actually achieve these results. The hatch results are stable and very predictable. It is very easy for us to target a number of chicks expected to hatch with a very low margin of error.

Incubant staff reviewing last month’s results

In your opinion, what should poultry companies be focussing on to be successful in their business?

Santiago:I would say that companies should stay focussed on quality: what matters is not to be the biggest but to be the best, and part of that premise is the management. First of all I would suggest to have production standards. Second, to have a good control over your production costs. And third, to be rely on the staff you work with and treat your employees in the best possible way, to make sure they are committed to their jobs and make the company move forward. We are convinced that people make the difference. For us, it is of utmost importance to keep training our employees and help them in maintaining an optimistic, growth-orientated mentality and a positive attitude.

How do you try to maximize your incubation results?

Margarita:We provide all of our staff with continuous training: in all aspects of the hatchery operation, the incubation and the hatching process, chick quality assessment, sexing and vaccination procedures … We see training as an important aspect. It not only keeps our hatchery results at the level we require, it also keeps our staff motivated and committed to their job.

Incubant staff discussing incubation parameters

What is the best way to achieve uncompromised bio-security?

Margarita: Bio-security is a key factor to achieve high-quality results. We are very well aware of this and therefore, we use a professional fully dedicated to bio-security in the hatchery. All procedures are written down in detail. Every day we know what is to be done and we do it! Next, we or the veterinarian monitor the plant visually. Further, there are ongoing and routine microbiological tests throughout the entire hatchery for monitoring purposes. I believe that bio-security depends a lot on the training of the staff. You have to raise awareness and create a culture with the necessary discipline. If you make your people understand why bio-security is important, it is far easier to convince them to respect procedures that may seem a bit extreme at first.

You have worked with multi-stage incubation in another hatchery. Now you use single-stage incubation. What do you prefer?

Margarita:There are various differences between single-stage and multi-stage. I have been working with incubation for over the last 20 years. I definitely prefer to work with single-stage incubation. Especially the logistics are far easier and the results are better. You operate ‘stress-less’, so to speak, since you can provide the embryo with the ideal conditions adapted to each stage of its development. Moreover, it allows you to implement an efficient cleaning, disinfection and preventive maintenance schedule between incubation cycles. Multi-stage is more static and involves working with average control parameters. I dare say it is no longer the proper solution for the incubation of modern broiler breeds.

In your opinion what is the importance of proper maintenance?

Fernando Restrepo:Good maintenance is key to success. We wish to prevent breakdowns or downtimes. You need staff that knows the hatchery equipment inside out and takes good care of it. That is why our staff is trained intensively and repeatedly. Our supplier Petersime gave us an intensive on-site training to get the maintenance staff quickly up to a high knowledge and skill level. Maintenance software generates and overview of both the time and cost of maintenance. Closely following up the maintenance and equipment will show that preventive maintenance is more efficient than only applying a strategy of problem solving.

Is animal welfare a hot topic in Colombia or is it rather new?

Mauricio Carvajal:Animal welfare is sometimes regarded as new but it actually isn’t really that new at all. Not only as veterinaries do we have to respect our Hippocratic Oath to treat all animals with the respect a living creature deserves. Also the Colombian law mentions animal welfare since 1989 and a more recent law from 2016 qualifies animal abuse as a criminal act.

What is your company’s view on animal welfare?

Mauricio:Within our company, we strongly believe that this is an important factor in our production. As a consequence, we maintain a clear company policy on animal welfare. Quite a lot of studies on animal welfare and on many aspects of health indicate and emphasise that it is simply a matter of comfort that will make a bird show its maximum genetic efficiency and, as a consequence, its productive efficiency. Therefore, if a bird is healthy and comfortable in a healthy environment, it will give us our maximum productive potential. It is actually a matter of common sense.

So for PolloCoa, animal welfare is a lot more than just the legal aspect?

Mauricio: Yes, exactly. Apart from assuring good production efficiency, Colombians are becoming increasingly conscious of animal welfare. Social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and mass media tools in general are helpful in making everyone aware of the issue of animal welfare. On each occasion the consumer drives the company, and the company in turn drives the industry to know more about animal welfare and to ensure that the protein that they are consuming comes from a bird treated with the respect it deserves.

Control of the freshly hatched chicks

To conclude, Petersime's motto for its customers is to ‘become the hatching champion’. When it comes to operating the plant, what challenges have you encountered in your pursuit to becoming a hatching champion?

Santiago:I must say that we really identify with this slogan. We are ‘paisas’, people of the Antioquia region. As ‘paisas’, we are disciplined, strong, hard-working, we don’t watch the clock and, finally, we strive to be better and to be competitive: to be the best at what we do! Petersime has given us great support to achieve the production standards that we aspired at the start of our project. We are really satisfied that we have set the step toward our own hatchery operation.

Incubant – Antioqueña de Incubation started with their first hatch in June 2015. They supply day-old chicks that are grown and sold under the PolloCoa brand. Incubant is equipped with Petersime BioStreamer™ High Density setters and hatchers. It handles 11 million eggs per year and employs 53 people.

From left to right: Mr Pieter Hemeryck, Petersime Director America Latina; Ms Arianny Salcedo, Incubant Administrative Coordinator; Mr Fernando Restrepo, PolloCoa Consultant Poultry Production; Ms Margarita Cadavid, Incubant Hatchery Manager; Dr Mauricio Carvajal, Incubant Quality Manager; Mr Santiago Correa R., PolloCoa Legal Representative; Ms Elizabeth Carmona, PolloCoa General Manager