Hubbard: Breeding for tomorrow
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Since its acquisition by Merck in 1974 to its joining the Groupe Grimaud family in 2005, leading poultry genetics company Hubbard has been largely a story of mergers and acquisitions.
Hubbard CEO Olivier Rochard, in an interview with Feed Business Worldwide at the VIV Asia 2015 in Bangkok last month, tells more about the company and how is it well-positioned to meet the actual and future needs of the poultry industry.
FBW: The poultry genetics industry is highly consolidated globally, with only a few players dominating it. Why is this so?
One and the main key reason for the high degree of consolidation is the high level of investments needed to keep up with the pace of genetic improvements and in sustaining R&D efforts. For example, Hubbard reinvests 12% to 15% of its turnover in R&D.
Given these substantial investments, they need to be able to sell their products all over the world to achieve sufficient payback.
Having operations in more than one country, in more than one continent, is also very important for risk mitigation of biosecurity threats such as avian influenza. Many companies have disappeared due to poor sanitary standards. About 20 poultry genetics companies existed 20 years ago, but now there are only three major ones.
How would you compare the opportunities for quantitative phenotypic selection (traditional selective breeding) versus the newer genomic selection?
Genomic selection will serve as a tool for us to measure certain traits more precisely. For example, determining egg quality which is dependent on many phenotypes (external, physical characteristics) is sometimes a challenge for traditional quantitative phenotypic selection.
However, we do not think that genomic selection will be a total replacement for traditional selective breeding.
The reason is that local breeding conditions in Asia are definitely different from that in Europe and in the Americas, and even conditions among Asian countries vary greatly. There is still no clear way for genomic selection to predict how a bird will react under different field conditions.
This is the reason why although genetic selection in Hubbard is done in Europe, Brazil and in the US, development centres have been set up in Asia to test birds under local field conditions, involving local feed and environmental conditions.
How does Hubbard differentiate itself from competition?
Product-wise, we have a much larger gene pole and a wider range of products compared to the competition, who are mainly focussing on conventional breeds. One specific feature we also do have to offer is a dwarf standard female well suited for a number of markets.
Technology-wise, we are very strong on traits related to feed efficiency and robustness. For example, our Hubbard M99 breeder male is very resilient as it comes to its digestive tract, allowing less need for antibiotics, thus producing drier litter (excreta) resulting in lower foot pad lesions (dermatitis) and hock burns (burns due to ammonia present in the excreta).
Talking about the future, it is all about measuring more precisely every trait which we want to and choosing which traits we want to focus on. We are experiencing a very exciting time as a whole range of new technologies becomes available and affordable. A lot will change in the near future and Hubbard really wants to embrace it.
Does Hubbard work with partners in countries where it operates to develop domestic breeding stocks for the local meat sector?
As earlier mentioned, large investments are typical of the poultry genetics industry.
In a country with a large number of coloured breeds, for example in China, it is not cost-effective to invest in specific coloured breeds that individually serve only a niche market. This is especially so for a global company like Hubbard, which exports its products all over the world to achieve good payback for its investments.
Also as previously mentioned, we would be taking an unnecessary risk of having to deal with sanitary bans on exports from specific countries.
Having said that, we do work with local partners to supply our colour recessive female breeding stock to be mated with their local males. Their offspring have all the phenotypes of the coloured male, together with beneficial traits carried by the female, such as high egg productivity and disease resilience.
We foresee huge market potential for our recessive female breeding stocks in the future, particularly in China.
Tell us more about Hubbard's "Less Feed, More Meat" concept.
(At this point, Mr. Rochard invited David Fyfe, Hubbard's Business Director Asia, to join the conversation.)
Rochard: "Less Feed, More Meat" means more sustainable poultry production with the use of our breeding stocks with lower FCRs (Feed Conversion Ratios).
This concept applies to both our conventional and coloured breeds.
When we say "More Meat," we also refer to meat quality. In short, increasing the total meat output.
Fyfe: Asia itself is a highly diverse market for the poultry industry.
For example, typical broiler weights in Indonesia and India are about 900 grams to 1 kg, while those in Japan and Australia are about 3.2 and 4.5-5 kg, respectively.
Farms in Asia are also of different standards, from the backyard style common in countries like Bangladesh, India and China, to very modern and sophisticated farms with ventilated housing and the latest feeding equipment in the same countries.
The thread which binds these differences together is that farms are getting bigger and bigger, and becoming more sophisticated. At the same time, there are fewer and fewer well-qualified people to manage them.
Therefore, our products based on the "Less Feed, More Meat" concept are easy to manage, consistent and reliable.
One example is the Hubbard Female used in Asia which is encountering growing successes and strengthening market shares. Its broilers are today one of the benchmark of the industry.
As another example, we have been a world leader in dwarf genetics for many years. Our Hubbard F15 breeder female requires less feed, occupies less space, and yet produces normal broiler offspring. Dwarf genetics is especially applicable to markets like India and the Philippines, where Hubbard has been successful in. In India, 75% to 80% of breeder production is in cages, while feed prices in the Philippines have traditionally been high.
What do you plan to do to strengthen Hubbard's global leadership in poultry genetics?
First, we highly value our employees and customers. We constantly hire people who bring in new competencies, be it in incubation, Grandparent Stock management or veterinary science. We also invest in the training of our employees and customers. Starting end April to May this year, our Hubbard training school in the US will see a new batch of customers receive two-week training – one week in hatchery operations and the other in live production.
Second, we give high regard to R&D, as I had earlier mentioned.
Thirdly, we strive to deliver premium chick quality of high sanitary status from all our production centres to all our customers worldwide, and seek continuous improvement.
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