December 2016

Practice-led innovation supported by science and market-driven actors in the laying hen and other livestock sectors

HORIZON 2020 ISIB-02-2014 project, Grant no. 652638


December 2016:       First Rondeel house 6 years in production

It has been 7 years since the start of the construction of the first Rondeel house in the Netherlands. This unique system, based on social acceptance, animal welfare and a uniquely marketable egg concept has been in production for 6 years now. It's time for an update with owner Timon Brandsen, son of the first Rondeel poultry farmer Gerard.

Timon Brandsen is proud to walk us through the Rondeel house in Barneveld. The packing station at the company is a hive of activity, where 2 employees and an intern are packing eggs for supermarket chain Albert Heijn. Most eggs of Rondeel Barneveld are transported to this supermarket. Only 6 years ago the first pullets were placed in this first Rondeel house in the Netherlands.

In the years that followed another 3 houses of the Rondeel concept were set up in the Netherlands, plus a mini Rondeel in the middle of Amsterdam. These Rondeel eggs can be found on the shelves bearing a ‘Beter Leven’ seal of approval with 3-stars and an environmental label, and are also transported to restaurant chains. The meat of chickens which have finished laying, is made into a spread for bread by air carrier KLM. The Rondeel housing concept is unique in its kind. The building is shaped differently, as it is round, the eggs are packed and marketed differently, in round boxes of 7 and the chickens are kept according to the highest welfare standards. They earn 3-stars by animal welfare organisation Dierenbescherming. Moreover, the concept is designed in such a way that a family company with ‘merely’ 1 house of 30,000 chickens, can derive a good income from the concept. Managing supply and demand is vital, not everyone is permitted to build a Rondeel house.

The first Rondeel used to have day housing with artificial turf on a sandy soil. The sandy soil has been replaced by a concrete floor, similar to other Rondeel houses.

Over the course of the past 6 years some things have changed at the company. Not only in the house, but also the daily management of the farm has changed. As of July this year Timon Brandsen, the youngest son of Gerard and Jeannet Brandsen, has been running the Rondeel house in Barneveld. After Gerard passed away 3 years ago, his wife Jeannet has managed the farm which is made up by houses with an aviary system as well as the Rondeel house together with her son Erik-Jan. Erik-Jan is currently focusing completely on the aviary indoor branch, while Timon continues with the Rondeel house.

New challenges

Timon grew up among poultry, however, he started working as an installation engineer. But there was always an urge to work with chickens. This was convenient as a new challenge as manager of the mini Rondeel in Amsterdam crossed his path. In the Zuidas in Amsterdam, surrounded by office blocks and residential buildings, Timon managed the house with 200 birds, while remaining in regular contact with the community. The people behind the concept located the project right in the middle of the city to bring urbanites in contact with egg production. The project had a marketing objective, not a production objective. “I feel positive about this and I learned how the consumer thinks,” says Timon. Besides educating visitors he marketed Rondeel eggs to hospitality companies and retail stores in the region of Amsterdam. For this he did not use eggs of the hens in Amsterdam alone, but also brought eggs from Barneveld with him. A tough but useful learning school, according to Brandsen, who points out that the mentality of the people in Amsterdam is completely different to the people in Barneveld.

The Rondeel eggs can be found on the shelves bearing a ‘Beter Leven’ seal of approval with three stars and an environmental label, also the packaging makes them stand out.

Getting a new customer is not always easy, but keeping a customer is even more difficult and costs a lot of time and energy, particularly when you want to share the added value of your eggs. After 2 years of being manager of the mini Rondeel in Amsterdam, Brandsen transferred the management as of August this year. This enables Brandsen to fully focus on the activities in Barneveld. For Timon managing a poultry farm on a larger scale is a new challenge. When Rondeel asked him to manage the company in Barneveld however he was quick to answer. “I love challenges,” says the young entrepreneur enthusiastically.

Running a poultry business for the first time

Although chickens and eggs are not new to Timon, managing a laying hen farm does require a lot of specific technical knowledge. The first 3 months the veterinarian, breeder, feed supplier and colleagues were a great help to the young poultry farmer. In addition, the entrepreneur’s mother provides support for catering and venue rental of the Rondeel house’s visitors area. This allows contact with consumers and is an added source of income.

The 2 employees, who have worked at the company for a longer period of time, were also taken over by Timon. Brandsen is responsible for the management of the hens, packing is taken care of by the employees. Nevertheless, Brandsen works on the packing line for at least an hour a day, so he can check the birds’ health via the eggs.

Prior to Timon’s start at the Rondeel house in Barneveld, a number of adjustments were made in the house, and maintenance was carried out on the stable equipment. Timon wanted to incorporate his own ideas in the house. Due to this the house was vacant for a period of 4 weeks after cleaning it. The first Rondeel used to have day housing with artificial turf on a sandy soil. The sandy soil has been replaced with a concrete floor, similar to other Rondeel houses. Besides, the use of artificial turf field trials are conducted with several types of litter. Litter should provide distraction, without causing problems in the intestinal tract of the birds.

Timon Brandsen poses in the visitors tunnel, a transparant room, where consumers can view the birds on an eye level, without disturbing them.

It is a big step to take over such a company and for a young entrepreneur without a history of owning a poultry farm, it is impossible to gain access to finance from a bank. Brandsen found a solution in a rental agreement for the hen house. The first rental period was one round. Brandsen does have the ambition to buy the house and expand the trade in eggs. First he must prove to himself that he is capable of managing the company. The entrepreneur is not running a lot of risk as long as the chickens continue to lay eggs. The rental price is a fixed element, as is the sales volume of eggs and the price. Moreover, Brandsen also fixed the feed price until the end of the round. The chickens are now in week 33 and have a laying percentage of 95%. “It is now our challenge to maintain this laying percentage as long as possible,” Brandsen says.

Judith Waninge  7 Dec 2016