Henning’s chicken farm in Thailand

“Had anyone told me that three years ago I would just have brushed it aside as a crazy idea,” says Henning about his current occupation.
But here he is.
And the farm, aptly named Ghor Gai Co Ltd after the first letter in the Thai alphabet – Ghor Gai means chicken – is a healthy business that keeps Henning, his Buriram wife Darunee and the 20 odd staff busy all the time.
Three factors made him take the chicken farmer route: love, a job offer he didn’t like and inspiration from a Singaporean chicken farm entrepreneur.
“The idea came up when I worked at Nakornthai Steel Mill. A Singaporean supplier had told me about his investment in a chicken farm. My workplace was in financial difficulties and approaching bankruptcy. At that time I got a job offer in the US. But I had been there once and never really liked it so I looked at other options. That’s when I decided to invest in a chicken farm. Now, my wife is from Buriram, and that explains why I ended up here!
His only qualification to enter the poultry industry is the childhood years in the Danish countryside.
“I am used to this kind of life and quite like the solitude and quiet environment here. It does not bother me at all. But experience of chicken farming before this? No, nothing.”
Henning Gajhede-Sorensen is no stranger to different cultures either. Since graduation 1988 as Piping Engineer, he has worked abroad all the time. In Greenland, UK, US, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Sweden and Thailand.
The chicken adventure began with a miscalculation.
Henning went for a traditional Thai open-air house to raise chicken.
“It never worked out. So I decided to build a modern evaporated cooling and humidification farm instead, short named an “evap farm”.”
All equipment but the water filled cooling pads, which are manufactured on US license in Thailand are imported. The fans come from Holland, the engines from Germany and the water system is American. Why not local or regional machinery?
“We work with livestock. Our equipment must run 24 hours a day. Domestic and Asian manufactured equipment don’t last,” says Henning.
“Productivity in a cooled, controlled environment is high. In the traditional open house you can raise 7 – 8 chicken per square meter without problems. But in a modern evap facility some 12-13 chicken can share that same area.”
In high tech chicken farming it is absolutely critical that your equipment does not break down.
“Young chicken, up to 25 days old, can take quite long breaks with no functioning cooling system,” says Henning.” But if the birds are any older they start die from heat chock after half an hour without a proper cooling system. So you see why I wont jeopardize the farm and livestock by savings on cheaper but unreliable equipment. I have seen other chicken farms that brought in cheap machinery and went bust later.”
Currently, Ghor Gai farm is raising an average of 105 000 chicken, in eight evap long houses, on a 20 rai area. They do also run a smaller, 35 000 chicken, farm in Chaiyapum.
“In this area there are about three farms of the same or bigger size as ours.”
Is there any Danish connection in this venture except you?
“Not really. Well, some of the cold storage containers from Pak Chong to the port come from Maersk, but that is the only Danish connection!”
“I had sme negotiations to obtain financing from IFU. But we never got anywhere. This is a Thai company with a Dane in it. Only Danish owned companies qualify,” adds Henning.
All chicken from Ghor Gai is exported to EU, Japan, Korea and Singapore.
“They are exported indirectly through the slaughterhouse we use in Pak Chong. That is part of a group that also supply hatched chickens and animal feed to us, so we are one link in a total chicken farming production concept.”
As much as possible of the waste and other byproducts from the chicken farm are recycled or sold. The chicken manure is for instance collected and packed in sacks and sold as fertiliser.
“Farmers in Ubon buy it for fertiliser in sugar cane farms, rubber tree plantations and various vegetable farming projects. I have played with the idea to treat the chicken manure and create a better fertiliser product. There are ways to do that, and make more out of the dung, but I have so far not had the time.”
Then there is “recycling” of dead chicken. Some birds in a flock will die in the chicken houses for various natural reasons.
“We just remove the feathers and chop them up. Then we feed them to our fish! I began experimenting this year with catfish and now have two ponds on the farm with some 40 000 fish. If you substitute traditional fish feed with chicken meat you make substantial savings and in the end come up with cheaper fish to the consumer. It is only for the first month of the fish’ life we must feed them with traditional fish feed. After that they can eat chicken meat. We will expand the fish farm to around 250 000 fish during 2003.”
Clever usage and successful sales of byproducts is likely to help make the THB 15 – 16 Million chicken farm investment a really good business.
“Normally the payback period would be 3-4 years but we had some problems last year with a slaughterhouse, which caused a loss. Since we changed to the current slaughterhouse it is business as usual again and we are right on track,” says Henning.
The birds at Ghor Gai are the traditional ‘white Italian’ used world wide in chicken farming. Henning says each bird yield an average 5 baht profit.
But to get there you must run a fault free farm with no glitches.
“These chicken have a lifespan of 49 days from hatching until they reach the slaughterhouse. If you miss one day of harmonious growth, the birds grow 60 gram per day, you lose money. Livestock are sensitive to many things. Chicken react to noise, rain and temperature changes. And feeding has to be exact, not too much, and not too little. And each flock of chicken is different. You need good, knowledgeable staff to treat the birds with success.”
The biggest risk in the production chain, as Henning sees it, is not an outbreak of disease but human error.
“If you keep the house clean, have functional equipment and manage it well there are no real risks. If you have an outbreak of disease it is always caused by human error.
Faulty equipment is another risk. That is why I rather pay more for good equipment than take a cheap option that may not last.”
Electricity supply is backed up with a generator that turns on automatically if the power is cut for any reason. And the plastic side covers on all chicken houses can be winded down by hand to let the wind blow in if worst comes to worst.
“We also have our own ten wheeler truck to secure deliveries of animal feed and transport of chicken to the slaughterhouse. Being dependent of somebody else for that would jeopardize the business. Our chicken consume 18-ton animal feed per day from when they get 35 days old. We cannot afford to lose one day because of somebody else’ s fault to deliver.”
What is your forecast for Ghor Gai during 2003?
“It seems to be pretty good times for chicken farming. We have had problems with new EU regulations being enforced in 2002. That disturbed many smaller farmers but we experienced fewer problems, as we were well prepared. The EU has a set of standards for chicken, it is a long list of requirements, and you must meet all of them to be able to trade with the EU. I have many opinions about the new EU regulations, why they have come about, how they treat Thai chicken consignments, the payment terms Thai farmers must take, but I guess we have to live with these EU’s rules whatever I or others say,” says Henning.
Are there opportunities for more Danish agribusiness entrepreneurs here in Isan?
“Forget it if you don’t bother to learn the language and the culture! It is difficult enough without those factors. But there are plenty of opportunities to utilize the land better. Most of the farm land is laid out as rice farms and used only four months a year and lie idle for the remaining eight months. There are some attempts to change this. Some have ventured into watermelon and cauliflower farming in the “off-rice” season but they are not many.
Contrary to what many believe, water supply is no longer a problem.
“It is available year round. You can drill wells. Freshwater is just 1.5 meter down, or you can build dams, some are built and more are coming. I have drilled some wells on this farm,” says Henning Gajhede-Sorensen.

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