Fieldale Farms is a one-stop-shop integrator that is still in the hands of a family. They control the whole chain from hatching egg to drum stick. And these are produced with feed - from their own mills - which is lacking antibiotics, coccidiostats and meat and bone meal.
By Dick Ziggers
It feels like déjà vu when entering the parking lot of Fieldale Farms in Baldwin, a rural town in the state of Georgia in the USA. Large arty metal chicken adorn the entrance to the office. “Have I been here before?” I ask myself. When asking for the feed mill manager my brain is still grinding for history retrieval. However, when Emory Forrester picks me up the déjà vu becomes a fact. I have been here before and clearly remember the furrowed face of Forrester. (I also found the article on Fieldale in our archives. For collectors: It appeared in Feed Tech Vol. 3 Issue 5 of the year 1999.)
He is still as enthusiastic about the mill as twelve years ago. Forrester is a feed processing man, so when asked about the effects of feeds without antibiotics, coccidiostats and meat and bone meal (MBM) and how they are composed he directs me to David Wicker, director of live operations and the company’s nutritionist. Wicker explains that as a result of consumer demand and public debate Fieldale decided to create a competitive advantage by not using the mentioned ingredients. “We produce a complete vegetable feed for our broilers,” he says. “A corn-soy mix is the base of our broiler diet and the required minerals and vitamins are added as well as certified canola and certified DDGS.”
With the omission of antibiotics and MBM in the feed, Fieldale follows the European regulations, however, by not using coccidiostats they go a step further. “To combat coccidiocis we vaccinate the day-olds broiler chicks with Coccivac and that works out fine. On our farms we can keep the parasite under control,” Wicker says. Here, one has to take in consideration that the American way of keeping broilers differs significantly from the European way. In the US most broiler houses have clay flooring covered with litter that is not always completely removed after a flock has been sent for slaughter. This way a house-specific bacterial balance is created, which is needed for helping to build up the immune system of the young chicks.
Since raw materials prices are increasing and prices are more volatile than in the past Wicker is also experimenting with alternative feedstuffs. Because of the large ethanol industry in the US there is an abundant supply of dried distiller’s grains with solubles (DDGS). “We tried levels varying from two to nine percent, Wicker says, but we found no good performance when adding more than five percent. We do use some at lower levels, but we are still evaluating.” Wicker further says that protein levels in DDGS are normally very uniform, but finds pellet quality deteriorating at higher levels and also throughput is conflicted when more DDGS is added. Currently this is not a big issue, because both mills do not run a maximum capacity. Since Fieldale Farms only makes feeds for its own birds the feed mill just adds to the costs of producing the broilers and does not need to be profitable, because the sale of the poultry meat is determining the company’s profitability. The main goal is to have the feed costs per kg of bird as low as possible.
In the mill four types of feed are manufactured: starter, grower, finisher and withdrawal feed of which the latter name is a relic from the period that coccidiostats were used in the feed. Besides these four types the feeds differ in what strain of bird is grown. “We make a Hubbard or a Cobb feed,” Wicker says. “What meat product is produced determines what chicken is selected and that determines the feed we make.” Furthermore for the pullets and laying breeders, 14 rations are available, but these are needed in much lower quantities then the broiler feeds.
Back at the mill Forrester shows me around. Both mills have a capacity of around 19,000 tonnes per week, but do not run at full capacity. The poultry further processing plants are the limiting factor; more birds simply cannot be processed packed for the supermarkets. The youngest millin the Baldwin area opened early in 1999. Forrester notes that the older of the two mills, which was built in 1978, is still in good shape. “We built the new one to take the pressure of the old mill. The old mill was used to its limits, and the company was, and still is looking for future growth.”
Raw materials by train
As much as 85% of the raw materials for the feed mills are delivered by train. The new mill is located on a Norfolk South rail line, and has enough tracks next to the building to handle 75 railcars. Grain from the Midwest of the USA is primarily delivered in 50-car unit trains. When parked at the track, a remote controlled shuttle wagon can pull up to 20 railcars at a time. When moved to the receiving area, 850 tonnes per hour can be unloaded, ensuring a fast turn-around.Forrester is proud of ‘his’ feed mill and gave me a tour of the whole facility. From the top of the mill, there is an magnificent view of the
surrounding area, and on a clear day you can see for more than ten kilometres.
In the control room, he explains that the operation of the mill is under the control of a PLC-based Beta Raven process control system. One employee controls the batch system, and one is in charge of the pelleting system. The feed ingredients are mixed in a Hayes & Stolz mixer with a capacity of ten tonnes. When operating smoothly, Forrester expects the mixer to produce an output around 200 tonnes per hour. Two micro scales and three liquid scales take care of dosing the critical micro ingredients. Pelleting is done by two CPM 9700 pellet mills, which are operated by a 400 hp engine and can produce 50 tonnes per hour. Both lines are equipped with a Geelen counterflow cooler.
“We strive for a pellet durability index of 82-88 (Kansas State method, DZ), which we think is sufficient for our customers”, says Forrester. “Anne Vann, our quality control manager, keeps a close eye on that.”Vann, as a quality control manager, also takes care of checking and sampling of all ingredients and compounded feeds. In addition, every 24 hours all ingredients in the micro bins are measured and the bagged ingredients are counted. These records are then entered into a computer spreadsheet and compared with the batching records. “This way, any discrepancy is easily traced. Apart from controlling the quality and safety of the products, this procedure is also requested by the Federal Drug Administration, which stops by at least once a year to check the records,” Vann says.
family business, which was started in the early sixties by Tom and Lee Arrendale, and Joe Hatfield. Combiningparts of both last names, they dubbed their corporation “Fieldale,” and began operations under that name in February 1972. However, its
history goes back more than sixty years, and in that period the company has grown to be one of the largest independent poultry producers in the world. All of its operations and headquarters are located within a 60 km radius of the city of Baldwin. Fieldale Farms with an estimated ready-to-cook poultry meat output of 15.70 million pounds ranks 14 on the top 25 list of US producers.
For processing of broilers the company oversees its product at every stage: Chickens are hatched at one of three Fieldale hatcheries, grown at 700+ different Fieldale contract farms, fed with the products of one of the two Fieldale feed mills, and once killed at one of the two Fieldale slaughtering plants, processed and packed at one of Fieldale’s four (further) processing plants in north Georgia.