While Egg is Warm. SmartNews Visits Europe’s Largest Poultry Factory

May 5, 2014

Thanks to 4.5 billion investments, the Vasilievsky poultry factory in Penza Region has become the largest poultry producer in Europe. A SmartNews correspondent visited the factory and found out how poultry meat is produced, why workers are constantly showering, and whether or not they eat chicken at home.

When I set out for the Vasilievsky poultry factory, I did not imagine that I would have to take a shower and change my clothes four times during the excursion — it turns out that all the workers and visitors to the poultry factory must take a shower and don special clothing before entering the incubator, the “inner sanctum” of broiler producers.

They did not have any clothes or shoes in a size small enough to fit me, and I was drowning in a company T-shirt and pants. But in my heart I was calm — as long as people entering the incubator must follow these rules, I can eat chicken with no worries. Despite the massive volumes produced, here a crucial principle is maintained: hygiene.

Over nine months in 2013, the Vasilievsky poultry factory produced 85,961 tonnes live weight of poultry meat for slaughter. The factory is not only the largest poultry factory in the Volga Region, but also in Europe. Such production volumes could be achieved thanks to 4.5 billion investments.

SmartNews Report

The Vasilievsky poultry factory, one of the oldest poultry facilities in the Volga Region, started operating 37 years ago. It has been part of Cherkizovo Group since 1999, and it is currently the largest manufacturer of poultry meat and incubation eggs in Penza Region.

The hatchery of the Vasilievsky poultry factory is located 10 minutes by car from the region’s capital. Incubation eggs are delivered here from three parent sites. Here I discovered chicks that, I was warned, would soon grow into broilers and stop being so cute.

SmartNews Report

The main task of the parent stock site is to guarantee the production and delivery of the necessary quantity of incubation eggs. The parent stock includes both hens and roosters. The eggs are incubation and non-incubation. Broiler meat is produced from incubation eggs in which the embryo is ready to be developed.

Hens for parent stock are delivered from Belgium, Holland, and Germany. In the past, suppliers transported chicks by plane, but now every large producer has its own hatcheries in Russia too.

An employee describes the process to me. Every three hours, the eggs are collected automatically so that bacteria do not have time to enter them. In the past, bird houses handled the collection, but automated equipment has helped make productivity almost five times greater.

While the egg is warm, it needs to be processed with a formaldehyde solution and chilled to 16 degrees; if the temperature is different, the embryo starts developing. A temperature of 16–18 degrees is maintained in the incubator, in transit, at the egg-processing plant, and even as the eggs are loaded into the setter. The process starts from this temperature.

Igor Kadushkin, hatchery manager, SmartNews

I am shown how after processing, with this temperature maintained, the eggs are loaded into large-capacity machines. The incubation eggs go into the hatchery.

In order to adhere to a high level of biosafety, workers wash and disinfect the entire conveyance.

Vladimir Akashkin, head animal technician of Vasilievsky poultry factory, SmartNews

If there are eggs that have suffered from being transported 200–300 kilometres, we keep an eye on things so that damaged eggs do not end up in the setter.

Igor Kadushkin, hatchery manager, SmartNews

We pass into the hatchery — it is an unusual place that the employees affectionately call the “maternity clinic for chicks.” Not a single outsider comes through here, not counting the one taking the shower. Before entering the inner sanctum, rank-and-file workers, managers, and journalists alike must step under the shower and put on a special uniform — even a regular maternity clinic probably does not have this level of sterility. We also go through this obligatory procedure.

All employees of the poultry factory are barred from keeping birds or any other animals at home. A driver admitted to me that on his first day of work, as soon as he found out about the rules “I went home to my wife and chopped up all the chickens in one day.” In order to monitor compliance with the rules, a special committee visits workers’ homes so as to ensure that infections do not enter the poultry factory.

I am given a small, live, yellow chick to hold. It is warm and surprisingly soft; it is as light as down, and it is hard to imagine that in a month it will weigh two kilos.

A perfectly even floor, without jointing so that eggs will not be damaged, was constructed for the incubation facility. The floor really is smooth and even, like a bowling lane — there is not a scratch.

Now, after transport, the eggs will lie in the setter for 18 days. It turns out that the temperature at which they will develop varies for different eggs: it depends on many factors, including the age of the parent stock.

The incubation eggs are then placed in the setter for 18 days. The temperature is set in an “individual” order: each age of the parent stock has a separate temperature schedule. In a good incubator, chicks expend all their strength on developing and growing, not on battling the cold. This is crucial.

Vladimir Akashkin, head animal technician of Vasilievsky poultry factory, SmartNews

So that the embryo grows “not by the day, but by the hour,” that is, so that it develops with each passing hour, the egg must be continually turned, and the temperature in the incubator must adhere to all standards.

Author’s video

After 18 days in the incubator, the eggs are transferred for three more days to a special brooder. Once the three days are up, the hatchery worker need only take a cart with the developed chicks and deliver it to an automated device.

Igor Kadushkin, hatchery manager, SmartNews

Twenty-one days after the start of incubation, chicks appear. The automated device sorts the developed and undeveloped eggs and “helps” the chicks to dispose of eggshells. Four operators sort them according to quality.

We used to put 39 million eggs in the incubators, and 58 people worked here. Now, since production was automated, we put 105 million eggs in, and 50 people are doing the work. We have more than doubled productivity. There are fewer people, but the quality of the product has improved. All the difficult processes have been automated. The more modern the incubator, the more automated processes there are. A person touches the eggs less and causes less damage.

Igor Kadushkin, hatchery manager, SmartNews

Nadezhda has been working at the poultry factory for 27 years. She remembers a time when machines did not yet help workers to perform difficult work.

After automation, things became much easier for us physically. In the past, we manually dragged boxes, sorted everything by hand, and produced a sampling of chicks. Now machines do all of this.

Nadezhda, hatchery worker, SmartNews

After they are sorted by quality, the chicks are brought to one of several facilities in the poultry factory; there they will spend 36 days turning from 40-gramme, almost weightless birds into 2-kilogramme broilers.

After that, we take the chicks to the broiler production site. There chicks are raised from day 0 to day 36. At the beginning of the growing phase, a chick weighs 40–42 grammes, and at the end it weighs 2.1–2.5 kilogrammes.

Vladimir Akashkin, head animal technician of Vasilievsky poultry factory, SmartNews

Author’s video.

We are in one of the three largest facilities of the poultry factory, Vostochnaya. The loading area here has 1.2 million spots. But the largest facility is Zarechnaya (1.75 million spots).

In order for a visitor to enter the facility, another shower and uniform change are required.

Alexander Devyatkin, a machinist-operator, has 90,000 chicks in his area of responsibility.

My tasks are to put the bird on the feeding, grow it, and hand it off. Create the optimal conditions for its growth. I have been working at the facility for two years. I do eat chicken.

Alexander Devyatkin, facility machinist-operator, SmartNews

SmartNews Report

The market price of an incubation egg in Penza (eggs from which a chick will most likely hatch) is 11 roubles. The market price of a just-hatched chick is nearly twice that — 23 roubles.

In the bird house, a computer manages the growth and development process of chicks: it maintains the micro-climate, heats the bird house with a heat generator, and eliminates dust, humidity, and unpleasant odours.

The temperature of the floor cannot be lower than 30 degrees. The chicks eat specially balanced feed, which goes through temperature processing and is safe to use, and they drink clean, filtered water.

Vladimir Akashkin, head animal technician of Vasilievsky poultry factory, SmartNews

After 36 days of growing and feeding the chicks they are caught in order to be taken to slaughter. At this point they already weigh more than two kilogrammes. The catching is also done mechanically.

In order not to traumatise the bird, the capture is done gently and in the dark, so that the bird gets less agitated. Light programs are specially used in order to prepare the bird for slaughter. All these measures decrease the risk of disease.

Vladimir Akashkin, head animal technician of Vasilievsky poultry factory, SmartNews

Then, the birds are taken to slaughter.

After each batch of chicks, the equipment is raised and it drives a small tractor into the bird house to clean the litter. Then, there is a washing, wet disinfection, drying, whitewashing of the bird house and burning.

Author’s video.

At the farm there is a slaughtering facility with two lines with productivity of 8,000 and 6,000 animal units per hour. In order to enter the premises, visitors must sterilise their hands and shoes.

The SmartNews correspondent’s findings revealed that all the poultry factory’s workers, from the head animal technician to the driver and machinist-operator, eat chicken.

In 2014, new facilities are expected to open at the poultry factory.