Specialised Breeders Australia expands operations to deliver better genetics faster

LtoR: Mikkel Overgaard, SKOV, Tim Knight, Parent Production Farm Manager, SBA and Frankie Horwood, Agritech Australia.

Specialised Breeders Australia (SBA), suppliers of Hy-Line Brown and Lohmann Brown day old layer chicks and point of lay pullets to Australian producers and overseas markets, has completed an expansion phase that dates back to early 2016. 

Poultry Digest has maintained a long interest in SBA and its progress through both significant expansion and more recently, new ownership.

In February 2016, Poultry Digest interviewed then SBA Chief Richard Rayner at a very greenfield site at Rochester in Victoria where the
company planned to construct a new hatchery to supply an expanding requirement for layer chicks.

In our April/May 2017 edition we reported on the completed project that had been five years in planning and completion. 

At the time and still today, the hatchery is a state-of-the-art facility supplying a growing layer sector locally and to numerous near neighbours in South East Asia.

Following the opening of the Rochester hatchery, other parts of SBA’s operations were modernised, with new breeder facilities to house great grand parent and grand parent breeding genetics.

Then, in November 2019, EW Group Gmbh, owner of both Hy-Line Brown and Lohmann Brown genetics, acquired a controlling stake in SBA. 

This was seen as a logical move for EW which has distributed the Hy-Line genetics through SBA for more than 25 years. 

On April 12, 2021, Poultry Digest visited the recently expanded SBA breeder facilities as the major upgrade nears completion. 

With us on the visit was Mikkel Overgaard from SKOV and Frankie Horwood from Agritech Australia, the NSW agent which supplied equipment to the SBA project. 

SBA Sales and Marketing Manager Jonathan Leslie introduced us to Eugene Viljoen, the EW appointed Chief Executive Officer at SBA.

Eugene amassed long experience in the highly competitive South African poultry sector before taking up a post as a State Farm Operations Manager with Inghams, so he is more than familiar with the Australian poultry industry environments.

The focal point of the extensive developments at SBA has been to take advantage of the improved and constantly improving genetics of the Hy-Line Brown and Lohmann layer birds bred by the parent company divisions of EW.

In November 2019, EW acquired the SBA organisation and all its facilities.

Steve Garland, SBA’s Chief Financial Officer, explained at the time, “SBA has been the Australian distribution partner for EW Group
subsidiary Hy-Line International for many years, so this acquisition is a strong strategic fit for both organisations. 

“The investment by EW Group will foster even greater cooperation between our local technical team and international breed suppliers, ensuring Australian egg producers receive the most up to date technical advice from abroad combined with our expertise in Australian conditions.”

Eugene gave Poultry Digest a briefing on the day of our visit before we ‘showered on’, toured the new breeder farms and later inspected a new parent stock shed.

“Getting layers to market involves a process where the Hy-Line Brown and Lohmann Brown pure lines in Europe are cross bred, then imported to establish the grandparent stock, then the parent stock, which produces the commercially available chicks,” Eugene explained.

“Until recently the process involved a two year import cycle and a 92 week period from import to the eventual production of the first commercial day old chicks.

“Now, with all our new facilities nearing completion we can offer both domestic and overseas markets
accelerated genetic access,” he said.

“There are two key changes which are a reduction in the lag from importation to commercial availability created by an increase in frequency in genetic imports.

“With the previous single import per two year cycle our available genetic stock was missing generations and the potential improvements gained by our pure lines in Europe.

“Now with our larger import facility our parent stock, bred directly from our more frequent grand parent (GP) imports, means that there is a thirty week reduction from imports to commercially available DOC.

“With a greater stock level of valuable breeding stock, biosecurity is of paramount concern on our overall operations.

“We have shower on/shower off protocols on all our sites and there are also truck washes on all sites.

“We operate a separate single purpose feed truck for SBA use and there are ‘stand down’ periods operating between our sites. There are specific internal flock service crews and overall we maintain operation separation between sites,” Eugene explained.

“Visitors on site are highly restricted and subject to the same biosecurity measures as our staff and are closely monitored at all times.”

Thoroughly showered-on we visited a shed housing parent stock. 

The nest boxes and flooring slats in the Vencomatic Grando system are specific for breeder requirements. 

Prinzen, a division of Vencomatic, supplied the automated egg handling equipment for the new breeder facilities.

Climate control is critical with such high value birds housed and the control system, mini vents and smart fans are all supplied through SKOV and its agent Agritech Australia.

SBA’s Marketing Manager Jonathan Leslie summarised the progress made at the SBA operation since our last visit in 2017. 

“Since 2017 SBA has undertaken substantial capital works in order to improve the quality of the livestock that we supply to producers and the biosecurity of our facilities,” he said.

“We have done this to ensure the resilience of our breeding network in the face of potential disease challenge that has decimated livestock sectors in other parts of the world,” he said.

“Critical further steps have been taken since the commissioning of a world class hatchery at Rochester in 2017 with an off-site truck wash and chick basket sanitation facility.

“Also, the building of two isolated parent breeding farms commissioned in 2018 and 2020 for the production of fertile eggs to supply the commercial hatchery.

“We have also invested in a dedicated parent stock rearing farm, stocked in 2019, that adds capability to our two existing breeding facilities that firstly house our grandparent breeding stock and export hatchery, the other housing our important vaccine egg production.

“All sites are around 10km from other SBA production facilities and this delivers operational isolation, essential to biosecurity as is our shower-on/off with strict stand down periods diligently enforced,” Jonathan emphasised.

“All production sites have truck washes for all vehicles on entry and all equipment must enter via UV boxes (as did Poultry

“Since the acquisition of SBA by the EW Group of Germany, we are now part of a global layer supply network for EW Group’s layer breeds, Hy-Line Brown and Lohmann Brown.

“SBA has, through its facility expansion, been able to revise its import schedule enabling it to supply the most up to date genetics to both egg farmers in Australia who buy our commercial layers and parent stock customers in critical Asian markets.

This tripling of import frequency provides more genetic gain to the Australian market ensuring that our farmers have access to the most up to date genetics from the world’s leading layer breeds,” Jonathan stated.

The final part of a busy day was to attend a seminar conducted over ZOOM by SKOV to ensure that SBA’s shed management team was getting the best results out of their state-of-the-art climate control systems. 

There is little point in investing in the most advanced shed control systems available if they aren’t being used to their full capability.

Key items of SKOV equipment at the SBA operations are BlueFans air outlets that have a direct smart drive system delivering low power consumption but optimum efficiency. The design features a light trap and shutter system that minimises air leaks.

Also, DA1211 side wall air intakes (mini vents) that are controllable to ensure that the right amount of air enters the shed in an optimum direction and at the right height and velocity.

Sensors are vital to ensure cont-roller effectiveness. DOL 19 (for CO2), DOL 114  (temperature and humidity) and DOL 18 (pressure sensors) feed the DOL 539 breeder controllers with climate data. 

The controllers also have the DOL 278 24 volt emergency opening system and the DOL 2400 alarm unit, supplied. These are fitted in SKOV’s own controller and wiring cabinet.

All the SKOV equipment and necessary support was supplied by NSW based Agritech Australia. 

Frankie Horwood, Agritech’s Managing Director told Poultry Digest that coordinating the supply and construction schedule in the middle of the COVID pandemic was ‘challenging’.

“Agritech Australia worked with our partner SKOV to design and supply the state of the art SKOV ventilation solution for the Karee Breeder Farm for SBA,” said Frankie.

“The centrepiece of this was the main electrical box built by SKOV with the DOL539 climate computer flush mounted into the front face of one the electrical box doors. 

“Crucial to this exercise was the electrical expertise supplied by SBA’s own Tim Lawry as he worked with Agritech to check and sign off on all of the SKOV electrical drawings ensuring a smooth commissioning phase. 

“This was a pleasant reprieve, as just getting our technicians on site needed the planning and logistical manoeuvring required for the D-Day landings. 

“The installation and commissioning phase landed right in the middle of the Covid-19 Victorian lock downs and State border closures. 

“Travel rules and regulations were changing on a daily basis with workers sleeping in their trucks at the State border waiting for approval to travel to Victoria. Individual travel exemptions had to be applied for, for each of the technicians with the level of detail such that even where the trucks were intending to re-fuel on the drive down from NSW having to be pre-arranged and approved. 

“Agritech and SBA made numerous telephone calls to local State members of Parliament and the Health Minister himself before Gus Power, and his team from Hi-Point Electrical, in Gosford, NSW were allowed to cross the border and make the SKOV ventilation a reality.

“In the end, a world class result was achieved through a team effort of all concerned working together under the unique pressures and challenges of a world pandemic,” he said.

In the ZOOM seminar for SBA’s shed managers, Martin Rishoj Jensen, a poultry specialist at SKOV’s head-quarters in Denmark, delivered a concise and effective guide to the best application of his company’s advanced shed technology.

Some of his key topics were that “Humidity and CO2 will always go hand in hand and the importance of the
‘Ventilation Curve’ and ‘Adaptive Humidity Control’.

He mentioned ‘optimal feed intake’ and restrictive feeding where better feed efficiency could be achieved in some cases by controlled or restrictive feeding.

Summarising his webinar, Martin mentioned issues of importance like “humidity control using heating, ventilation or temperature reduction”.

“Comfort temperature keeps birds comfortable at increasing/high ventilation rates and SKOV’s Adaptive Control software ensures the best possible and consistent accuracy of controlling the optimal shed environment. 

“Batch curves are the basics and cycle time can be controlled by inlet openings.

“Monitoring prioritisation must go to minimum CO2, ammonia levels, humidity and temperatures and that feeding can be controlled through timing and amount of feed,” Martin concluded.