Poultry producer, Stephen Hay and his family partnership produce table birds for the UK’s broiler market. They farm 19 sites across Britain, from South Wales to Yorkshire, with each indoor unit rearing approximately 260,000 table birds per crop.
The business was established in 1984. However, since that time the costs of production have increased considerably, making it more important than ever to capitalise on economies of scale. “One noticeable rising bill has been the cost of water,” says Stephen Hay. “When the business was established we were paying 50 pence per cubic metre, now the cost of water has risen to £1.46. That’s an increase of 192%!
“As a result of this, water cost management and water supply has been a key priority that the profitability of our business is dependent upon. Not only have costs risen sharply, but a further concern has been the dramatically changeable weather patterns.
“It’s easy to take the resource of water for granted, but in actual fact it is central to our success,” notes Stephen. On our units, we rear day old chicks to table birds in 42 days within a 49 day cycle, this includes a seven day period to clear out and wash down the sheds.
“This means that not only do we need safe drinking water for the birds, but we also need considerable quantities for thoroughly cleaning the sheds,” notes Stephen.
The Hay’s had their first borehole drilled in 1986, two years after the poultry business was established. Stephen explains why. “Water from the boreholes is considerably cheaper than the mains and a borehole pays for itself within a couple of years, and from then on, we only have the running cost of the electric pump to consider, which is no more than approximately £1.50 a day. “Before installation, we invested in detailed prognosis reports, which indicated where and how much water should be available, and hence we were satisfied that we had drilled in the most optimal sites.”
Stephen points out that the water that is designated for drinking from the boreholes has to be of superior quality. Our borehole installers WB+AD Morgan send-off samples of the water to Severn Trent for analysis. They rectify any issues that are shown up in the analysis. Some of the sites recently completed have required additional treatment to remove iron from the water before use; all of the necessary equipment was supplied and installed by WB+AD Morgan. “We regularly check the quality to ensure it is pure and there are no imbalances. “Only once the water quality is checked and found to be of the right quality do WB+AD Morgan hand over the borehole for use.”
Brian Morgan, Director at WB+AD Morgan adds; “We are having more enquires than ever from farmers installing boreholes. It appears that the unpredictable weather, together with the rising costs of water, has made farm businesses realise that water is a key resource that needs to be managed. The payback varies from project to project, but on average it is two to five years and running costs are minimal.
“What we have seen on Stephen’s enterprises is the recognition of the valuable role water plays in a successful business model and having seen his business recently invest in wind turbines and photovoltaic panels, Stephen clearly takes his role as a custodian of the countryside very seriously,” notes Brian.
Offering advice on the potential pitfalls of opting for a private, borehole water supply, Brian maintains that the borehole prognosis is the most vital first step. “As a specialist firm, and members of the Well Drillers Association, we won’t even consider drilling in advance of knowing exactly what the underlying geology contains, and whether water is likely to be available in sufficient quantity. In most cases, following a positive prognosis, water will be there, but there is no guarantee so you need to know the risk.”
He adds that a borehole decision should not be made on price alone. “Request a full breakdown of costs, especially an indication of any over-runs, and also make sure that you have a detailed specification that covers all aspects of the work to be undertaken and the make and type of equipment to be installed. Also make sure the installer is suitably qualified for the electrical works,” concludes Brian.