Ed Wilson, 49, is the manager of a 180,000-bird poultry unit in Lincolnshire that supplies a major processor. He grew up in Malawi and did not come from a farming background, although his father worked in fishing and Ed helped a family friend who was a cattle herder during school holidays.
After attending secondary school in Suffolk, he completed a degree in agroforestry at Bangor University.
See also: Agricultural professions: From tractor driver to assistant farm manager
Prior to poultry farming, his career included researching tree planting habits for the Forestry Commission in Zimbabwe, working in tree nurseries in Mali, assisting local farmer associations with forestry in Burkina Faso and supporting Aid for Africa in Uganda.
Living in Africa boosted Ed’s love for poultry, as the locals gave him chickens as gifts. He started building his flock, learning as he went, and selling eggs and chickens as a hobby.
Back in the UK with his wife and children, Ed spent several years working as a production supervisor and development manager at various hatcheries, teaching at training provider Poultech and as a poultry succession manager.
Last year he spotted a Ceres Rural ad in Farmers Weekly for a site manager position and decided to apply, taking up the post in December 2021.
Every day, Ed starts around 7:30 am, checking the birds in the four sheds and making sure the Fancom automated management system (heat, light and feed) and cameras are working.
It records bird data against the ideal profile to check their progress and keep an eye on their progress.
Other duties include fulfilling feed orders, sending weekly return of broilers to the processor to plan slaughter times and maintaining sheds.
After a break in the afternoon, Ed returns to perform the night check. He is available 24/7 – with a backup manager available at all times – and an automatic alarm is sent to his work phone if something goes wrong.
He says the job offers good security and satisfaction, as well as a motivating good performance bonus and housing.
“It’s a really good job for an active person because I don’t want to sit at a desk all day,” he said.
“I love chickens and I love raising cattle and it’s good to be able to manage my time and have responsibilities.”
What the work ?
Poultry managers need good husbandry.
They will need to turn young chicks into adult birds, meet production goals and bring the birds to the peak of their health during this time.
Other key aspects are good environmental management of the building and attention to detail on animal welfare, good record keeping, excellent site hygiene and biosecurity, adherence to health regimes and safety and legislative requirements involving safe work practices and responding to alarm calls that may go into the building.
]Basically, you will need excellent attention to detail and good problem solving skills.
What qualifications/experience are needed?
Usually you must have worked in the poultry industry for at least three to five years.
Ideally, you are in the process of obtaining or hold an avian passport and a level 3 work-study agricultural diploma, aviculture specialty.
You may also need a clean driver’s license and a forklift certificate.
How can you acquire the necessary qualifications/experience?
A number of colleges offer poultry management courses, including Harper Adams, SRUC, Easton College, and Poultec. It usually takes 18 to 24 months to complete the Level 3 diploma.
In some cases, the employer can fund the training, so you can start as an assistant poultry manager and train part-time.
What are the benefits of this job?
For animal welfare reasons, most poultry manager jobs now come with a house or housing allowance.
There is usually a profit-based premium linked to the quality of raising the birds throughout the growth cycle, and usually pension contributions.
What would be a typical salary?
The minimum is usually £25,000/year, increasing to £50,000/year plus bonuses.
How to evolve in this role?
It is normal to enter the industry as a poultry assistant and progress.
Often you can start with a small poultry business and expand to the number of sheds you need. Being in the top 25% will help you grow in the company.
How can employers best manage and retain staff for this role?
It’s about providing good working conditions and free time, and keeping staff fully trained and motivated.
Source: Will Gemmill, Partner, Ceres Rural