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Hen Pen – Gold Dust
by Eilidh MacPherson
Poultry and arable enterprises work hand in hand at Edington Mains, Duns – utilizing the poultry manure saved David Runciman £27 300 in Potash and Potassium applications last year.
Investing £1Million in a 32000 bird poultry unit has been worth every penny says David Runciman, who farms in conjunction with his father on 926 arable acres near Duns in the Scottish Borders.
Quite the entrepreneur, David had already instigated a joint venture – Chirnside Farmers Ltd – with two of his neighbours, carrying out all arable work on 2500acres, operated out of Edington Mains. He utilized the shed space at Edington and increased the grain storage by 8000t to a 20000t storage capacity and in 1998 he installed a grain drier with a 40t/hr capability and a 2000t cold storage unit was added before contemplating the egg enterprise. While some farmers go about their day-to-day business as their forebears have before them, David never lets the grass grow under his feet and is always thinking ahead. Since he and his father moved from two owned farms and one rented holding at Lauderdale to Edington Mains in 1992, they have constantly invested wisely on this arable outfit. “The possibility of no Single Farm Payment in 2013 prompted us to look at the future. Our projected payback time on the hen house is 5 years all going well! With the first year under our belts this is a realistic target and we hope to have it paid off before 2013. It was a huge commitment in finance (as a £1M investment can’t be taken lightly when it is all self funded) and time, but a good way for us to expand our business and it runs egg-ceptionally well with the arable farm. As you‘ve probably noticed I don’t do anything in a small way,” laughed David.
The Runcimans opted for a 32000 bird free-range unit so they could afford to take on a manager to run it as they had no prior experience. They were delighted to appoint poultry guru David Foreman. They also employ another full time man and part time girl on the poultry side.
Following a lot of research, “We chose the Big Dutchman multi-tier system, where the muck is dried. This shed is cleaned out twice a week, so it is very fresh and leaves a much better atmosphere for the birds. Air mixers at either end of the shed mix the hot and cool air so there is a level temperature,” explained David, whose next project will be to build a shed to store the 1200t of hen pen to keep within NVZ rules. He is hoping for some SRDP funding for this exercise.
The poultry excrement is like gold dust at Edington Mains. David calculated that it saved the business £27300 on Potash and Phosphate at current fertilizer prices – an £18000 saving on Phosphate and £9300 on Potash, not to mention Nitrogen, last year! With fertiliser prices shooting up from £138/t to £550/t the hen pen has been a godsend. As it is rich in calcium, David reckons he may never need to lime again.
When the planned storage facility is in situ, the hen pen will be stored over winter and spread on crops in the spring to maximize its potential. “If applied in the autumn, leaching occurs in the winter and plants are not growing so are not taking up the nutrients at that time of the year. We are still fine tuning application. I would like to spread 24 m using tram lines but might have to split them,”
“We normally buy fertiliser in bulk for Chirnside Farmers and it is then sold individually to each farm. We use Soyl Precision Farming to sample the soil then straights are applied using satellite technology.”
David site managed the whole project, from the first digger going in on 1st February 2007, to the birds arriving at the beginning of November 2007. Local building construction team – Thorburns of Duns – erected the shed, before Newquip sent a Polish team in to install the technical feed, watering, air circulation and egg collecting innards. The hen house, which lies, well landscaped, across the road from the main farm entrance is well screened by trees, on 32ha of the poorest land. Being completely out of view of the roadside acts as an extra bio security measure.
A fully automatic egg collecting system is centrally located in the hen house. It fills trays of 30 eggs, which are then grouped into 180s and built into pallets of 720 dozen – 8640 eggs, which David says weighs just over half a tonne. “It’s only an arable farmer that counts eggs in tonnes!”
On the egg-marketing front the Runcimans are tied into a five-year contract with Glenrath, who also rear and supply the Isa Waren, Tom Barron birds. “It gives us piece of mind and we have a great working contract with Glenrath and and hopefully this will carry on into the future.”
Glenrath collect the eggs twice a week and are responsible for packing and grading them. Payment is made monthly per dozen with no difference to the grades of eggs. “The reason I like this is when the lorry leaves I know eggs-actly how much I’m getting. Cash flow-wise it is absolutely fantastic. The investment we have made in our poultry business based on the eggs going to Glenrath Farms only works if both parties trust each other. The same attitude was applied when we set up Chirnside Farmers – trust what you are doing and trust the people you are working with,” said David.
“We were ready for the next progression and found moving into the poultry sector was one of the best moves we have ever made as there are not many roundabout. Although it was a huge investment we have had great backup and support from Glenrath. It is our most profitable enterprise by far, although we had an exceptionally good year on the arable side last year,” admits David.
This progressive farmers’ advice to young farmers is, “never be afraid to move.”
Farmers: David Runciman in
partnership with his father
Farming: Edington Mains, owned
Location: Duns, Berwickshire
Area: 926 acres
Stock: 32000 laying hens
ISA, reared by Glenrath
Crops: 406 acres wheat
200 acres barley
200 acres OSR
40 acres potatoes
Labour: 2 ft arable, 2 ft eggs,
1 pt eggs, David & father
Other Income: 20000t Grain storage,
grain drying – 40t/hr