Avizoo, Cooperativa Agricola San Martino, Consorzio Agrario del Nordest and Avicola Artigiana have come together, in a far-sighted project, to launch onto the Italian market, with the support of Aviagen genetics, a special slow-growing strain.
Penna D’Oro is the brand name given by Avicola Artigiana to this type of slower-growing chicken that meets the demands of an increasingly discerning consumer while also creating new marketing opportunities for the smaller sized producer. For the first time four companies, each with differing objectives, have found a way to address the market with unified intent and with the common goal of producing a quality chicken.
The genetic strain involved is Aviagen’s Ranger Gold bird which is a combination of a brown-feathered Ranger female, delivering excellent reproduction and the Gold male, delivering exceptional performance for robustness, feed conversion and meat yield.
An important and fundamental partner is the Consorzio Agrario del Nordest which, thanks to its Calv Alimenta feed division, is able to provide the members of the Cooperativa Agricola San Martino with integrated feed for this strain of bird with particular attention being paid to the supply of cereals to ensure they all come from guaranteed and interchangeable supply sources.
An alternative product conceived in a new way
“The concept of a slow-growing strain in Europe was perceived around 15 years ago in Aviagen -explains Claudio Ambrogio, Aviagen’s Business Manager in Europe for the Rowan Range – because it was felt that it was already time for the market to change and for there to be an intermediate space between the conventional and the alternative breeds with these alternative breeds, for simplistic reasons, often being called “labels”. The Label Rouge represents an example of the alternative breeds, but is a very slow-growing product when compared to the conventional breeds. There was however, and there still exists, a large sector in which, together with characteristics of rustic hardiness and organoleptic qualities one can combine typical industrial traits such as conformation, meat yield and feed conversion to the strain of bird. Aviagen has developed a coloured female line which combined with four different males can give the producer the possibility to have a product with known performance standards and a product that fits in between the conventional, and the alternative strains. In the alternative breed market each producer creates a different product from that of its competitor, which also creates a wide variety of products for the consumer.
The range of alternative products is wide and they include free range, heavy colored and light colored etc. Our intent was not to be repeating any of these products, but to create a new one that could also be used in large operations looking to produce a quality niche product without major transformation of their production facilities. We launched the Ranger Gold a few years ago and it was received with great interest by all the producers. This interest was however restrained by awareness that producing this type of product would be more expensive. The Netherlands is the only country in which this strain has been widely and successfully accepted, not so much by an independent decision of the producers, but rather as a result of the influence of animal welfare organizations, who identified growth rate as having the appearance of discriminating against animal welfare. Thus, these strains, which grow at a rate of 50 grams per day, have been systematically adopted for all Dutch poultry productions. Other countries, including Italy, have maintained conventional production and have only partially adopted this type of product, with a very low percentage uptake. The new project, starring the Ranger Gold, is a very good initiative and one that will surely have success, proving to many companies that this is the right path to take.”
A unique supply chain of its kind
Avizoo is a company specialized in reproduction, incubation and poultry selection, based in Longiano (FC) and this year celebrates 60 years of activity. Their General Director, Giovanni Ferrara, told us about this new project from his conception. “The initiative began three years ago on the basis of some fundamental considerations of the poultry market and the possible positioning of the small and medium sectors. Today, the market is influenced by new phenomena related to the expectations of the public, which rejects too much junk food and favours animal welfare and naturally produced food. In recent times the poultry sector has been put under pressure by the mass media, with scandalistic articles and questioning reporting, the result of which the larger major producers and distributors have been quick to adopt countermeasures and, for example, in the space of little more than a year has promoted
the production of the antibiotic-free chicken. For the small to medium sectors, maintaining a market position has proved increasingly difficult because we are surmounted by large companies with their economies of scale. We asked ourselves, and also Cooperativa Agricola San Martino and with slaughterhouses and small companies, how to survive and be competitive in this context. During these discussions the idea emerged of having a chicken with different characteristics, a product diverse from the conventional one. One that could be manageable by smaller outfits and could position itself well in the market, especially at retail level, where the product range differs from that seen in the larger supermarket chains.
At that time, Aviagen genetics proposed a new breed, the Ranger hen, which can be mated with various types of males, with slow-growing characteristics. It was decided to test the genetics, by purchasing a small group of breeders, buying commercial eggs and carrying out progressive tests. Throughout 2018 we focused on the growing of this new strain by delivering the chicks to the Cooperative, who has decided to increase, the numbers they could handle. Avicola Artigiana handled the slaughtering and distributed the finished product to various areas of Italy, with very positive feedback.
Action was taken to obtain ministerial recognition, and to go through a complex process of tests where it could be shown that Aviagen’s Ranger Gold could be classified as being in the slow-growing production class, thereby enhancing its reputation as a market alternative and, as such, opening a new sales avenue for the small and medium-sized companies. The aim of achieving ministerial acceptance and to enhance the value of our project was to illustrate that our breed could be classed as a slow-growing chicken, with specific traits, which takes about 15 days more to mature, with a growth rate of 50 grams a day and has a more savoury and consistent quality of meat.
The confirmation that we were on the right track has also come from the recent work of Rabobank, the organization that sets the guidelines for the Dutch food and livestock sector, where the author, Nan-Dirk Mulder, suggests that there is a clearly defined space within the poultry industry for slow-growing chickens and that there is excellent consumer acceptance. It is also worth emphasizing that this initiative sees growers themselves as protagonists, offering them a better market perspective in the future.”
The key to the future for growers
This project has been supported by the Cooperativa Agricola San Martino (VR) and its President, Nico Quaresima, explained why: “The Agricultural Cooperative San Martino, of which I have been CEO for about four years, was created in 2003 on the initiative of a group of growers. Today there are about 60 companies that raise chickens, guinea fowl, capons, pullets and chickens for table eggs. It is a modern, open supply chain that brings together the various sectors of hatchery, feed mill, breeding farms and slaughterhouses. Our goal, shared by the CDA, its directors and all our members is to create a better future and stability for our growers. With this vision we have embraced this project with the aim to produce a quality chicken and also to give greater added value to the concept Made in Italy.”
“For a long time, we as farmers had thought of doing something different to those involved in large scale production and national chains -continued Piergiorgio Marcon, Director of Cooperativa Agricola San Martino, who sees it as a turning point. Our growers have been witnesses throughout the evolution of the chicken, which once had a much poorer food conversion ratio. Genetics have seen improvements which has brought great benefit especially for industrial sized companies, but also has led to a disappearance of those breeds that growers passionately believed could be classed in the market place as a product of high quality. The available slow-growing breeds did not do so well, but we knew that Aviagen had something special in mind and we tested these new genetic strains with Avizoo noting that, in the slaughterhouse, they had the right characteristics for us namely a rustic product resistant to diseases. They are very beautiful birds, with varied plumage, imposing crest and that defines sexual maturity and nature. Litter stays dry and does not cause footpad lesions. In short, a perfect chicken for Avicola Artisan, who has always tried to stand out in terms of quality.”
Product quality also for the slaughtering and further processing
The quality of the product is confirmed by Mauro Bersanetti, Founding Partner of Avicola Artigiana, who speaks to us of the slaughterhouse and of the characteristics of the product:”Avicola Artigiana is a small slaughtering plant located in Ferrara, founded in 1978, with strong links to the territory and its traditions. An entity which over time, thanks to commitment and passion, has grown from just employing a few to now having a staff of 60 people. The core business has remained the same, trying to combine traditional ways of working while making full use of high technology to ensure that our products meet all safety parameters with emphasis placed on maintaining their organoleptic characteristics. For example, the cooling system is important in order that the product has prolonged shelf life and the traits of high product quality are maintained even after slaughter. We are investing heavily in the image of this product in which we firmly believe. The certification has also given us an edge and adds value to our project”.