Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Information and training needs of Australian chicken meat and egg producers

Alison Spencer1, Paul Kent1 and Kevin Whithear2

1 Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, PO Box 327, Cleveland, Q 4163,, Email ;
Australian Poultry Cooperative Research Centre, The University of Melbourne, Werribee Vic 3030, Email


The aim was to determine the information and training needs of producers, to improve the skills and knowledge in the rapidly changing poultry industry. Producers are scattered geographically with local densities, and vary from small independent to large corporate farms, in systems requiring constant attention.

A mail survey was selected, for reasonable cost and to widely approach all production types. Owners/ managers /supervisors responded for themselves and on behalf of their staff. The response of 17.4% (of 1618 questionnaires) is estimated to represent nearly half the industry flock size. Most obtained information from newsletters, followed by personal contact; for future information, the internet was mentioned more frequently. Satisfaction with existing sources was twice those dissatisfied.

About 40% were satisfied with current training. Training topics varied between production systems, preferably delivered in one day sessions (practical, knowledgeable trainer), with mention of videos and internet (for travel, biosecurity concerns). Accreditation is considered of great value. Two thirds of respondents thought more industry information should be presented in schools. Poor industry image was a possible reason dissuading job seekers.

The success of implementing findings could be judged on: development of packages that meet needs, level of uptake, staff turnover, and possibly any change in the industry’s image. There is a coordination role to communicate training needs and availability.

Three key learnings: (1) Automate survey analysis as much as possible and have clear process notes. (2) Basic husbandry training is important as well as highly technical. Make better use of preferred communication channels. (3) Respondents think all sectors should be involved in developing training and to promote the industry.


training delivery, specialist skills, industry coordination


Poultry production occurs in all Australian states and has two distinct segments, chicken meat and egg. Both are mostly clustered near population centres, including in the regions.

The chicken meat industry has an annual gross production value of $1,281 million (ABS 2004 data). Australian consumption of chicken meat is about 35.1 kg per capita (ABARE 2003 data) and is rivalling beef as Australia’s most popular meat. Production is controlled by a small number of privately owned integrated companies that have their own hatcheries, feed mills, breeding farms and processing plants. The grow-out side of the industry has around 850 members, the majority of whom grow chickens under contract for one of the production companies (RIRDC 2005).

The Australian egg industry has about 450 enterprises (AECL 2005) and directly and indirectly employs around 9000 people (AEIA 2001), farms about 13 million birds and has a gross annual value of around $335 million (ABS 2004 data). The egg industry produces about 200 million dozen eggs each year (AECL 2005), mostly for the Australian market, which consumes around 155 eggs per person each per year (AEIA 2001).

(a) Industry challenges

The poultry industry is highly technologically advanced within Australia’s animal industries. Restrictions on the use of antibiotics, public demands for improved bird welfare and environmental sustainability are seen as major challenges. There is a trend away from the traditionally owned and run family farms towards larger company farms. These larger entities require a higher degree of technical expertise in a range of areas such as new technologies (e.g. computerised environmental systems), quality assurance and marketing. Other agricultural industries, for example the dairy industry (Bodi et al 1999) and the horticultural industry (Soderlund 2004), have similar challenges and are reacting similarly, and there is a reported increasing need for technical and professional staff.

With these industry changes and challenges, the poultry industry will need skilled workers with a diverse background of farming and management skills that not only can interpret and apply new technology, but also develop it. Training can have benefits for workers (e.g. increased wages) and employers (increased productivity, lower staff turnover) (Smith, 2001) and updating the skill levels of existing personnel as well as attracting new skilled persons into the industry is essential for the continued development of the industry.

Objectives of the survey

To determine, by survey of personnel in all sectors of the Australian poultry industry:

  • their current levels of education and training,
  • how they obtain information and are trained, and
  • their future needs for information, education and training to increase their skills as workers in the industry.


A mail survey was selected, for its reasonable cost and to approach all production types across Australia. The questionnaire was devised with the assistance of a consultant, tested and revised, and sent to Australian egg producers, chicken meat producers, poultry companies, hatcheries, marketers and processors, either directly or via their enterprise organisations, targeting personnel with a managerial/ supervisory role.

The survey was sent to and analysed on the basis of four major industry sectors:

1. traditional egg producers

2. free/range organic producers

3. chicken meat producers

4. large corporate poultry production companies

The intention to carry out the survey was widely publicised throughout the poultry industry. Anonymity of individual survey responses was promoted at all stages, with only collated results used for reporting. Each questionnaire was numbered but it was not recorded to whom it was sent, only the grouping to which they belonged to allow the results to be collated within each industry sector.

Results and discussion

Response rate

The response rate of 17.4% (of 1618 questionnaires) was consistent across the industry groupings although slightly lower from the company group. This response rate is within the expected range of 5-30% for a paper based mail survey (J Coutts, pers comm Aug 2005).

Profile of respondents

Most respondents were farm owners/operators or company farm managers at all levels, as targeted, who answered for themselves and on behalf of their staff. The production systems used by respondents reflected actual industry sectors. It is estimated that those who responded were responsible for about half the Australian layer population and about 45% of chicken meat production.

Current information use

The overall level of satisfaction with existing information sources was two-times higher than the level of dissatisfaction, although a similar proportion were neutral as were satisfied (based on a scale of 1 to 5), as shown in Table 1. Positive responses were highest in the free-range/organic sector and lowest among traditional egg producers with the other two sectors intermediate.

Table 1. Satisfaction with available information

Level of satisfaction

Number (%) responses/industry sector

Traditional egg






22 (31.9)

8 (57.2)

56 (43.8)

38 (43.2)

124 (41.5)


24 (34.8)

3 (21.4)

56 (43.8)

34 (38.6)

117 (39.1)


23 (33.3)

3 (21.4)

16 (12.4)

16 (18.2)

58 (19.4)

Total responses

69 (100)

14 (100)

128 (100)

88 (100)

299 (100)

Magazines/newsletters was the most frequently nominated category of information used across all industry sectors (Table 2), followed by personal contact (other farmers and company technical support) and conferences/ symposia (a list of possibles was provided plus the opportunity to add others). Preferences within these categories varied according to the industry sector, such as magazines for particular sectors.

Table 2. Categories of information sources used by respondents and/or their staff


Number (%) responses/industry sector





All sectors


120 (20.7)

13 (13.5)

82 (11.6)

74 (12.7)

289 (14.7)


255 (43.9)

36 (37.5)

338 (47.7)

288 (49.5)

917 (46.6)

Personal contact

154 (26.5)

35 (36.5)

228 (32.2)

146 (25.1)

563 (28.6)


29 (5.0)

6 (6.3)

29 (4.1)

44 (7.6)

108 (5.5)


15 (2.6)

5 (5.2)

13 (1.8)

19 (3.3)

52 (2.6)


8 (1.4)

1 (1.0)

18 (2.5)

11 (1.9)

38 (1.9)

Total responses

581 (100)

96 (100)

708 (100)

582 (100)

1967 (100)

Most useful information sources

Respondents nominated their three most useful information sources and across all sectors this was provided through company technical support or advice from other farmers. A national industry conference held in Queensland and two industry newsletters (one specifically for the meat chicken sector) were also well regarded, with the internet and consultants less commonly listed (except that the internet was considered more useful by free-range/ organic than by other sectors and of equal usefulness to them as were other farmers and a newsletter).

Recent training experience

About half the respondents and their staff had undergone further training (mostly in-service i.e. on the job, and attendance at workshops/seminars) during the last two years and 40% were satisfied/ very satisfied with their training, 30% were neutral and 30% considered it very unsatisfactory/ unsatisfactory. There is room for improvement.

The most common training topics were biosecurity and hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) (all sectors) and within sector topics were quality assurance (layer and free-range/organic sectors), tunnel ventilation and environmental management (chicken meat sector) and basic disease diagnosis and managing staff (companies sector).

Information needs

More information in the business management area, including budgets, forecasting trends, managing staff, costs of production and industry trends and issues was requested, especially by the egg and company sectors, to a lesser degree by chicken meat producers and not by the free-range/organic sector. This ties in with the industry situation of the egg and company sectors employing more staff than the other sectors. The company sector requests focused on people skills.

Other common information topics requested were nutrition (egg and free-range/organic sectors), quality assurance and HACCP (egg and company sectors), poultry care and management (all sectors except egg) and poultry health (all sectors, and company and egg respondents specified biosecurity).

Preferred information sources

Respondents in different sectors of the industry had some different requirements in their preferences for additional information (Table 3). Newsletters and fact sheets were preferred across all sectors with magazines somewhat less popular. Seminars were well supported among the chicken meat and company sectors but not amongst the egg and free-range organic producers who preferred institutions and the internet, respectively. Conferences were the least supported method for obtaining information, which may be explained by the responses to another question that indicated they did not want to be away from work for training purposes of more than one day.

Table 3. Best ways for obtaining information for yourself and/or your staff

Preferred method
for sourcing information

Number (%) responses/industry sector

Traditional egg

Organic (%)

Meat (%)


All sectors


12 (4.9)

1 (3.7)

26 (9.3)

21 (8.9)

60 (7.6)


19 (7.7)

2 (7.4)

40 (14.3)

36 (15.3)

97 (12.3)


23 (9.3)

5 (18.5)


26 (11.1)

80 (10.2)


37 (15.0)

4 (14.8)

55 (19.6)

33 (14.0)

129 (16.4)


22 (8.9)

3 (11.1)

38 (13.6)

22 (9.4)

85 (10.8)

Fact sheets

34 (13.8)

5 (18.5)

50 (17.9)

39 (16.6)

128 (16.2)

Personal contact

18 (7.3)

3 (11.1)

31 (11.1)

41 (17.4)

93 (11.8)


78 (31.7)

2 (7.4)

12 (4.3)

14 (6.0)

106 (13.5)


3 (1.2)

2 (7.4)

2 (0.7)

3 (1.3)

10 (1.3)


246 (100)

27 (100)

280 (100)

235 (100)

788 (100)

The three most frequently nominated sources of information for each sector are shown in bold.

These future preferred information delivery sources differed slightly from those that respondents and/or their staff currently used, with institutions and internet rating higher (13.5% of responses across all sectors compared with 5.5% for institutions especially due to the responses of the egg sector; 10.2% versus 2.6% for internet), and videos and DVDs being some of the suggestions in the option “Other”. Caution is needed in interpreting these trends as the framing of the two questions was somewhat different, however the industry may be embracing the potential role of the internet and educational institutions as future sources of information relevant to them. Institutions may be seen as having greater credibility but as they are not highly ranked in currently used sources, they may not be promoting sufficiently or providing the appropriate content or delivery format.

Training needs

Poultry care and management, basic disease diagnosis and biosecurity were the most popular topics for further training across all sectors and ranked highly within sectors. Other high ranking topics within sectors were managing staff and HACCP/quality assurance in the company sector, environmental management and tunnel ventilation in chicken meat sector, feed management in free-range organic sector and quality assurance in the egg sector. Other topics suggested reflected the specific needs of the sectors, such as people skills and IT modelling in the company sector, and shed environment control in the chicken meat sector.

Poultry care and management was not highly ranked in recent training experience, so may reflect unawareness of available training, that improvement is needed in content or delivery or that the training was less formal and its occurrence not remembered. The emphasis by all sectors for farming skills including “the basics” in animal husbandry was similar to that found in a survey of Victorian dairy producers (Bodi 1999) and in the sheep industry (McLennan et al 2003).

The company sector respondents (managers) operate larger enterprises than other sectors and have a greater number of staff (average 25 versus 11 for egg and 2 for other sectors) and requested specialist skills in the business management area, such as managing staff, as they did for information needs. The need for people skills was similar to responses in a pig industry survey of 119 employers (Frost 2004) in which 74% had not received formal training in human resource management, while approximately half (56%) of respondents believed that this training would assist them become a better people manager.

The poultry company respondents’ request for business management and other specialist skills is also similar to that of the larger Victorian dairy enterprises (Bodi et al 1999) and is was suggested that the topics selected by the larger enterprises may give an indication of a future need for these skills (through training or employment) by smaller enterprises as they increase in size and adapt the jobs within the enterprise structure.

Training delivery method

Industry respondents chose their preferred method of training for themselves and their staff from a list provided, and as shown in Table 4, the three preferred methods of training delivery across and within all sectors were clear-cut – primarily workshops, followed by seminars and trainer to site. Distance education, either paper-based or via the internet was much less well supported, as was travel to an external venue.

Comments gave useful insights into preferred training delivery methods – the advantages and disadvantages for their situation. Common comments relating to face-to-face training included the social and sharing aspects, that training needed to be practical, hands-on, given by trainers with practical knowledge in poultry industry production and management, with good written notes, along with videos etc for future reference.

Table 4. Preferred method of training delivery

Method of training delivery

Number (%) responses/industry sector

Traditional egg

Free-range/ organic

Chicken meat


All sectors


30 (29.4)

5 (26.3)

51 (29.3)

48 (29.3)

134 (29.2)


17 (16.7)

4 (21.1)

39 (22.4)

28 (17.1)

88 (19.2)

Distance education (paper based)

16 (15.7)

2 (10.5)

18 (10.3)

17 (10.4)

53 (11.5)

Distance education (internet based)

14 (13.7)

2 (10.5)

21 (12.1)

15 (9.1)

52 (11.3)

Travel to venue

7 (6.9)

2 (10.5)

19 (10.9)

15 (9.1)

43 (9.4)

Trainer to come to site

17 (16.7)

4 (21.1)

25 (14.4)

38 (23.2)

84 (18.3)


1 (1.0)

0 (0.0)

1 (0.6)

3 (1.8)

5 (1.1)


102 (100)

19 (100)

174 (100)

164 (100)

459 (100)

Other methods of training delivery suggested were discussion groups, videos/ DVDs and the internet

The length of time that best suited respondents or their staff if they were to be absent from work to attend training/education programs is summarised in Table 5. Up to one day was the preferred length of time for training although a substantial minority of non-company staff answered that they were unable to spend any time away from work for training. These enterprises employ fewer staff. Comments reflected the difficulties in getting time away from work, the need for continuous animal care especially in summer, distance to venues and finding replacement staff.

Table 5. Preferred length of time for training

Preferred length of training period

Number (%) responses/industry sector

Traditional egg

Free-range/ organic

Chicken meat


All sectors


10 (20.4)

2 (25.0)

13 (16.3)

0 (0.0)

25 (12.6)

Up to 1 day

23 (46.9)

4 (50.0)

37 (46.3)

30 (48.4)

94 (47.2)

1 to 2 days

12 (24.5)

2 (25.0)

21 (26.3)

25 (40.3)

60 (30.2)

More than 2 days

4 (8.2)

0 (0.0)

9 (11.3)

7 (11.3)

20 (10.1)


49 (100)

8 (100)

80 (100)

62 (100)

199 (100)

Industry image

Poor industry image is a major issue as seen from a specific question and from comments given in answering questions about industry training, factors hindering job seekers and whether more information should be provided in schools. Comments from all sectors also displayed a lack of pride in their industry. Respondents considered that two factors relating to poor image (image and not seen as a real trade or profession) were major reasons that job seekers are not considering the poultry industry (Table 6). There is a need to identify the reasons that prospective job seekers consider in not looking for jobs in the poultry industry, to examine their perspective, for example, do they hear about available jobs.

Table 6. Factors that respondents considered would hinder job seekers (percent within industry sector)


Traditional egg

Free-range/ organic



Poor comparative pay/salary





Poor industry image





Not seen as a real trade or profession





Difficulty in hearing about available jobs





Lack of career structure










Total (number of responses 565)





About half of all respondents (about 70% in both the company and free-range/organic sectors) agreed that accreditation of training would be of value and would help improve salary and career structures and the poor image of the industry – both within and from outside.

The poor image highlighted by poultry industry survey respondents as a reason job seekers are not attracted to the industry is echoed in other agricultural industries, such as the dairy industry (example comment by an industry respondent in Bodi et al 1999 “the profile of the dairy farming is not good enough” and by rural students in Bodi and Maggs 2001 such as dirty/ smelly/ muddy; and long hours/ hard work in the top five responses); the horticultural industry (Soderlund 2004 in a business plan by Coutts Casey and Stone reported that data showed young peoples’ perceptions included “low pay, poor career prospects, manual work and rural locations”) and the pig industry (Frost 2004).

Most (67.5%) respondents thought there more information about the industry and its potential career options should be presented to schools and media. This was also an issue in the pig industry (Frost 2004) where 71% of 119 survey respondents believed it was not sufficiently promoted to prospective employees and suggested solutions were education via schools, lifting the image of pig industry, promotion of the technical side, greater exposure of the industry in metropolitan areas, more workplace training to agricultural students, utilizing promotional videos to school leavers and potential employees. Similarly, the need to attract young people to a rural industry is reflected in the findings of a web based horticulture industry survey (Soderlund 2004) in which 60% of responses considered that there was a need for promotion, and this was compared with the wine industry, which although involving similar jobs, had created a more positive image.


1. We recommend using a survey system that is as automated as possible to collate and analyse the results, accompanied by a well thought out process. The system needs to provide automation when adding and variously collating responses, a structure that guides and provides a logical flow that can be followed by others later; and the process to include formula and data checking. Linked spreadsheets worked reasonably well for the 285 responses although it required good communication between the team members, and we learned as we went to include easily understood work notes in the spreadsheets.

2. Basic husbandry training is still important as well as highly technical. Tailor information and training topics and delivery to suit the poultry industry sectors, as each has some different requirements.

The poultry industry, as are other agricultural industries, is changing in response to a number of challenges, and increasingly more business and specialist skills are needed as enterprises adapt. However the need for traditional production skills such as animal care remains. There may be a need to review the content, promotion and delivery of the currently available training in poultry care and management. There is a need for training in business management skills, including staff management, and other specialist skills such as environmental management and quality assurance.

The poultry industry is of an intensive nature and is scattered in clusters geographically and this as well as their production system influence their preferences for training delivery. The survey respondents (mostly owners/operators/ managers at all levels representing about half the national flock) prefer, for themselves and their staff, group training (workshops, seminars and trainer come to site) of one day’s length which is of practical hands-on style and delivered by knowledgeable trainers visiting local areas. Also of value are the options of videos and internet for those that cannot travel and have biosecurity concerns. In practice, individuals within each sector will have different preferred learning styles, thus delivery methods used will need to cater for this, while taking into account the preference of the sector.

There is a need to make better use of preferred communication channels. This will allow industry information providers to improve their delivery success and could overcome some of the respondents’ comments that they were not aware of the training that is available. As one of the preferred channels is through other people in the industry, such as company technical staff, strengthening and tailoring the information delivery to and via these people should assist others in the industry.

3. Respondents think that all sectors should be involved in developing training and to promote the industry to the general public. Issues such as training and image affect all of the national industry, and a participative approach involving all stakeholders should result in a greater chance of improvement.

There is a role for a national industry body to take the lead in coordinating a whole of industry approach to these issues. This could enhance communication, negotiate training to meet identified needs, identify views of stakeholders, review and build on current training resources and to develop, and improve and promote the Australian poultry industry image through the media and training providers/ career counsellors. A web site could assist in these aims by being a portal and improving information flow in the industry such as by providing education/training information, available industry positions, grants available for employing and training staff and changes to national legislation that affect industry.

The Australian Poultry Cooperative Research Centre, through their Education Program, is using the results of this survey as part of their leading role in improving industry relevant training, including formal courses, to meet the future needs of the industry.


Anon (2001). Egg Industry Facts brochure. Australian Egg Industry Association.

Anon (2005) Chicken meat program – web page. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

Anon (2005). Annual Report 2005. Australian Egg Corporation Limited.

Australian Bureau Agricultural Research Extension (2004). Australian Commodity Statistics 2004. Australian Government.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2005). Gross Value of Agricultural Production 2004. Australian Government.

Bodi, A, Maggs, G and Gray, J (1999). Managing skill transitions in the Dairy Industry. Report. Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Melbourne.

Bodi, A and Maggs, G (2001). Dairy careers – perceptions, activities. Report. Dairy Research and Development Corporation.

Coutts J (2005) personal communication. Coutts J&R Pty Ltd.

Frost S (2004). Human resource/staffing survey of the Australian pig industry. Workhorse Recruitment and Australian Pork Limited.

McLennan, N, Dewhurst S, Hamilton T (2003). Survey of sheep meat and wool vocational and industry education resources. The Australian Sheep Industry CRC.

Soderlund, R (2004). Developing a strategy to attract young people to horticulture. Business plan by Coutts Casey and Stone. Horticulture Australia Limited

Smith A (2001). Ed. Return on investment in training: Research readings. National Centre for Vocational Education Research.

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page