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Cobb500: A Balanced Product that Satisfies Everyone

21 September 2012, at 12:00a.m.

With the Cobb500 enjoying its highest ever sales in Spain, Cobb Española is investing €5 million (US$6.3 million) this year in expanding hatchery and farm output.

In the last six years, the franchise distributor has doubled sales to four million parents a year through gaining a bigger share of the market in Spain and Portugal and developing new markets in north Africa.

Rafael Gil outside the new hatchery in northern Spain.

The Spanish are consuming an average of 22kg (48.5lb) of chicken a year, with Cobb representing 44 per cent of the market. Across North Africa, Cobb Española is selling more than one million parents per year to Morocco and Algeria where it has exclusive distribution rights and developing new business in Tunisia.

The increasing popularity of Cobb in Spain is because it suits all sectors of the production chain, says general manager, Rafael Gil junior, who said: "It's a balanced product that satisfies everyone from the breeder farmer to the processing plant."

The first opportunity for expanding production came in 2006 with the purchase of the former Hybro grandparent facilities 250km (156 miles) north of the Cobb Española's headquarters at Alcalá de Henares – months before the Hybro breed was acquired by Cobb-Vantress, Inc.

The acquisition by Cobb Española brought the Hybro hatchery at Dueñas and associated rearing and breeding farms. As Steve Chapple explains in the main article inside, this ultimately brought a dilemma – whether to expand the two hatcheries or go for a new one.

The recently opened hatchery at Dueñas has a capacity of more than five million chicks per year and has been designed to allow for expansion to double this number.

The other significant development is the stake in the company now held by Cobb Germany which replaced one of the Spanish shareholders in 2009. Cobb-Vantress owns 50 percent of the business with Rafael Gil senior retaining his family's share.

"This has been a positive move for the company with Cobb Germany very supportive of our investment and expansion plans," says Rafael Gil junior.

The investment takes place against a background of economic difficulties for Spain. "The supermarkets are putting a lot of pressure on producers," he continued. "There are a few big players at retail level and lots of players at industry level, and uncertainty too about rising feed prices."

The economic difficulties have increased consumer preference for whole birds rather than portions or processed products, with whole chickens selling at €2 per kg. Most of the chicken is eaten at home – 17.5kg out of the 22kg per person per year, with fresh chicken accounting for 95 per cent of sales.

New Hatchery Opens with Sights on Further Expansion

The author met Rafael Gil, Cobb Española's general manager, at a nearby breeder farm. His family has had a relationship with Cobb that goes back 42 years when the business was an independent franchise.

They drove the few miles back to the hatchery under cloudless blue skies through vast arable countryside famed for its nearby Ribera del Duero vineyards.

The hatchery is very impressive from the outside, with a huge Cobb logo beaming out from the attractive cream and brick red walls rising imperiously above immaculately landscaped gardens.

I asked Rafael about the decision to build a brand new hatchery.

The origins of Cobb Spain are at Alcalá de Henares, just north east of Madrid. That is where our first hatchery was located and near to our grandparent farms, he explained. "In 2006 we thought it would be a good idea to expand our facilities to a different area. We did need more product but we also thought that having two grandparent production centers would be beneficial. So, we bought the hatchery here in Dueñas and three farms from Hybro who had recently finished their operations here."

He continued: "Since then, we have invested in this area with more farms and other investments until we got to the point where we needed more hatchery space. The board of directors at Cobb Spain considered two main options: one was to expand one of the two existing hatcheries and the other was to build a brand new hatchery and close the other two, and that was what we did."

He explained that although the investment was a little higher, they now had a great asset that could be utilized for the greatest benefit to the company.

This hatchery has double the production capacity of their two old hatcheries.

"We have also designed this hatchery for 100 percent future expansion," Rafael explained. "The production rooms are already sized for future expansion and we can easily double the capacity of the setter and hatcher rooms when the time comes."

The author asked if he had visited any hatcheries prior to making the decision to go with Chick Master, "I went to the Cobb-Vantress Lafayette parent stock hatchery in Tennessee after the 2011 Atlanta Show with your sales manager Gregory Vanputte. It was impressive."

Their new hatchery boasts 24 Avida A8-82 two-zone setters and 8 Zephyr C-272-82 hatchers with stainless steel interior panels. The machines incorporate all of the latest Chick Master safety and energy saving features such as variable frequency drives, hot water heating for a fast warm-up to temperature after setting using the copper coils in the setters, and the Break Glass in the hatchers providing extra security and time in the unlikely event of a critical situation.

The first eggs were set just six weeks prior to our meeting, so Rafael was asked how the start-up process had gone.

He said: "It went well, like all new hatcheries we have the typical issues because all of the machinery is new so we have to continually make adjustments until we are happy. We are impressed with the quality and results we are getting now but probably the quality we will have in two months’ time will be better still as we find the settings that work best."

On how the team had found the experience of working with the Avida setters, he said: "It really is an easy machine to use and manage, this is one of the good things about your equipment. They are easy to clean and the ventilation flow is very nice – the air easily reaches all of the eggs."

Cobb is using the 82-egg tray that places two trays per frame. "It is a good smaller tray, very manageable on the farm and excellent for transportation. They also work very well especially with our automation equipment," he added.

As we toured this facility, the author was introduced to Vidal Hernandez, the hatchery manager, who was in his office carefully studying his Maestro control system screen. This is Chick Master's new hatchery management and control system which brings all the information generated by the incubators and all other connected equipment in the hatchery to a single point for analysis that allows for highly proactive and informed management.

Cobb Española is the first European hatchery to use this system.

"I can see the status of each incubation system as well as the ventilation equipment, water chiller and much more," said Vidal. "It is easy to use, very informative and a great tool to help me do my job even better."

This hatchery also has a Chick Master designed and supplied energy management system. A large part of the system is roof mounted so we climbed up to the attic to have a look. The impressive central duct connects the main air intake via ultra violet light treatment and a heat recovery coil to their three air handling units. Explaining his decision to go with this heat recovery and energy management system in this seemingly very hot country, Rafael said: "Let me tell you that of all the different areas of Spain, this one is the coldest. It is 600 metres above sea level and can get down to 15°C below zero in winter. Most people have the image of Spain that is the Mediterranean in the South where the climate is always very mild but the center of Spain is very different." It is projected that with these conditions, Cobb Española will save enough to pay for the heat recovery system in less than two years.

September 2012