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Interview: The Chicken Commitment in Practice

Picture of Hilde Talseth.Norsk Kylling is a Norwegian chicken producer that is pursuing several sustainability concepts, including raising its standards completely to the level of the European Chicken Commitment. We talked to Hilde Talseth, COO of the company, about the experiences, intermediate steps, hurdles and positive surprises along the way.

Hilde, can you tell us a little bit about Norsk Kylling?

Norsk Kylling is a fully integrated food value chain for chicken products based in mid Norway.

Norsk Kylling is the first – and so far, only – industrial-scale producer of ECC-certified chicken in Norway.

Our animals live longer and more healthy lives than compatible livestock. Our strategy is to set a new standard for responsible, efficient and innovative production throughout a green value chain and thereby ensure our consumer, products of the highest quality to the lowest price in the market.

Norsk Kylling is committed to producing healthy, sustainable food in a responsible manner. We aim to set a new standard for our industry: becoming climate positive, nature neutral, removing soy from all our operations build on circular mindset.

What is your role in the company and what are your main responsibilities?

I am the COO in Norsk Kylling and CEO of our hatchery Hugaas Rugeri. My responsibility is to secure healthy good quality chicken delivered to our processing plant on time and correct amount every day. I am also leading some of our biggest developing projects to secure that we constantly are improving our production to become sustainable and climate positive within 2030.

Norsk Kylling decided to join the European Chicken Commitment (ECC). How did you arrive at that decision, what progress have you made so far and what is your timeline?

Our goal is always to have the very best animal welfare for the chickens in our value chain, and we always look for innovation and development to ensure the best standard.

  • In 2015 we reduced the density from 36 kg/m2 to 34 kg/m2
  • In 2016 we installed controlled atmospheric stunning using multi-phase systems in our old processing plant. We used our experience with this system and for our new processing plant (startup July 2021) we bought and installed a state of the art technology solution for atmospheric stunning
  • We implemented our new breed Hubbard JA787 during 2018, together with environmental enrichments for all our chickens throughout the whole value chain

With this big changes we immediately experienced great improvements in animal welfare for our chickens. We are always looking for improvements and good results gave us the encouragement we needed to go even further in developing our animal welfare standards. We discovered the ECC standard and learned it to be a good tool for reaching our goals.

At present, we are:

  • Building new farms to be able to meet the density standard and at the same time secure delivery of chicken to our customers
  • Establishing light conditions as demanded in the standard in all our farms

This will be finalized early 2022.

What are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your transition to ECC so far and what was easier than expected?

Based on the extraordinary situation with the pandemic, our social responsibility regarding securing enough food in the Norwegian grocery market was prioritized first. We therefore had to postpone thinning the maximum stocking capacity for a short period. However, this does not change our decision that Norsk Kylling should have a maximum stocking density of 30kg/m2 or less in our chicken barns, and we will fulfil this requirement during 2022.

Our goal is to work responsibly at all levels to ensure good animal welfare, which is important both for us as a business, as well as for employees and farmers.

Which breed(s) do you use and what can you say about their performance?

We only use the Hubbard JA787 breed. We made the final part of this transition in 2018. The reason is simple: it has a longer lifespan and slower growth. And the results so far are staggering: Hubbard experience 15% slower growth; 41% longer life; 39% lower mortality; 75% lower transport mortality. In addition – our farmers report of a livelier chicken, living overall more active lives. Furthermore: we now use 3 million less chickens to produce the same amount of meat as we did with Ross 308.

We’ve heard some concerns about going from 20 to 50 lux. What are your experiences with fulfilling this criterion? What are the benefits of taking this step and/or are there any problems?

Norway has the minimum requirement that there must be 20 lux in at least 80% of the animal room.

With Hubbard, we have experienced that we can drive brightness far above the minimum requirements and actually have a positive effect on behavior and growth by driving more light. We are now implementing new light systems in all broiler farms. This light system has a better composition of colors (daylight spectrum) as well as UVA light. With the right range, it allows the brightness to be set further. Our houses can now have a maximum brightness of 100 lux in 80% of the animal room. For us it is important to have the light system that can give the chickens the optimal light (range and strength), to secure the best animal welfare. We have therefor added an overcapacity so that we rarely run at full strength the entire insert.

We have heard very different estimates about price increases for producers that come with the switch from conventional broiler production to ECC. The range starts with 14.6 cents extra per kg on the low end, goes to 19.5 cents in the middle and goes up to 30+ cents on the high end. Is there anything you can share in that regard?

Our experience proves quite the contrary. Our farmers have gained a higher earning with Hubbard [JA787]. The primary reason being that lower mortality rate and significantly lower rates of sickness and trauma improves profits. In addition, we are experiencing better yield with our slower growing breed and we therefor offer our chicken at the same price or lower than ross chicken sold in the Norwegian market.

Thank you for this interview!