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How Joe’s chicks flew before they hatched – with the RAF

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Picture of Lohmann Brown chickens from the Lohmann UK website
Picture of Lohmann Brown chickens from the Lohmann UK website

Joe the Vet was left pondering the ultimate chicken-or-egg situation after the RMS St Helena stopped sailing to the UK.

In past years, the ship’s passenger list regularly included new breeding stock for St Helena’s poultry farmers.

But with visits to Portland Harbour no longer on the supply ship’s schedule, Joe Hollins had to find another way of getting new parent birds from the breeders in Germany.

And his contacts at Lohmann GB, suppliers of the prized Lohmann Brown chickens, really weren’t sure about the idea he came up with:

Transporting 360 fertilized eggs on two air flights via RAF Brize Norton and then a sea voyage from Ascension Island – without shaking them up too much.

Joe evidently wasn’t too sure about it himself – but the island was running out of chickens and in the end, it had to be worth a try.

The island’s last batch of parent stock were past their prime, he said: “They aren’t laying very much, and the eggs aren’t very fertile either.

“We normally bring down our chickens on the RMS from the UK.

“They are what we call the parent stock, and from those we get the eggs that we incubate and hatch so we can provide pullets to the island.

“The last 50 produced something like 5,000 that we sold on to the island – very efficient chickens.

We are behind with our orders for pullets for the first time in a couple of years. We needed to replace the parent stock. But we no longer had the RMS link.”

Flying in fresh birds was the obvious alternative to the ship – but the RAF doesn’t go in for live chicken runs to the South Atlantic. The birds would have to earn their wings another way. 

“We had to find a solution,” Joe told SAMS Radio 1, “so I asked Lohmann to send us the fertilized eggs.

“They didn’t really want to do it. We were setting ourselves up for failure, and to be honest, I’ve been quite nervous about doing this.”

The gamble paid off, and at the start of June 2013, the agriculture unit at Scotland had become home to 187 newly-hatched chicks – none of them suffering from jet lag.

That represented a better-than-typical 54% hatch rate.

Picture from Loghmann GB website

Fifteen of the chicks are male, ensuring good prospects for future breeding of the Lohmann Brown chickens, which are renowned for their friendliness and adaptability – and their prolific laying.

Their first offspring, due after 18 weeks, are set to be sold on to island small holders at a subsidised price of £1.50 a bird.

Lohmann UK was said to be delighted. And in the entire journey from Germany, there were only six breakages.

LINK: Lohmann UK

SEE ALSO: Roddy brings an end to egg imports (with 525 little helpers)

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