Poultry Production in the UK with Matthew Oldnall

Taking risks — whether it be in a career, life or the agricultural industry — is generally portrayed in a negative light. It forces a person, company or industry to recognize that failure could be on the horizon. But, what many forget is, risk also opens up the opportunity for success. It’s up to you to choose the outcome of your risk.

Matthew Oldnall, the Poultry Manager for Capestone Organic Poultry in Wales, United Kingdom, choose success. The 27-year-old landed his current position through a lot of hard work and a little risk taking.

The Risk

Matthew began his career in poultry production by obtaining his undergraduate degree in animal science and honors degree in poultry nutrition from a University in South Africa. He landed his first job in unusual way.

Following graduation, Matthew and several of his friends took a road trip to Zimbabwe to blow of some steam before real life started. While sitting at a pub one night on the trip, Matthew struck up a conversation with someone about his degree and began networking. The next morning he received a call from the MD of a European Union funded program in Zimbabwe that operated under the principle of making Africa self-sustainable by 2050.

“He met up with me — that was about half way through my road trip — offered me the position, so I got a plane, went home, fetched my bags and came back the next day,” he said.  

Despite the risk he was taking, the idea of having his knowledge transferred to such a sustainable project was enough for Matthew to cancel his trip, move countries in a day and start his career.

“For me, it was the right opportunity at the right time and the willingness to say, ‘Alright, I’m doing it.’ Go for it, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Grab it by the horns,” he said.

The Work

While in Zimbabwe, Matthew worked with seven individuals on the program’s management team to formalize the informal chicken market. The group took the informal trade market and commercialized it by joining farmers together to market their chicken to big retailers in the country. During the nine months Matthew worked in Zimbabwe, the company went from being the market newbies to the second biggest market share in the country.

From there, Matthew moved to the United Kingdom to obtain his master’s degree in poultry production and work as a farm manager on a 240,000 broiler farm. When he decided he wanted to build his career on the business side of poultry and broiler production, he landed a job at Capestone Organic Poultry.

“I landed up at Capestone for two main reasons — the processor was leaving and we were going through a big corporate change and strategic goal change in how we want to increase our volumes and numbers,” Matthew said. “And with the stuff I managed to achieve in a relatively short time in Zimbabwe, I got the role.”

Capestone Organic Poultry is a high welfare poultry production company that produces organic, free-range broilers and turkeys, as well as poussin, a whole chicken that is grown at a smaller weight so it can be served as a one meal portion. The company has an integrated system — minus the hatchery — that allows it to raise chickens from one-day-old, through the processing, packaging and delivery stages.

Matthew has 55 employees directly reporting to him that are spread out on multiple farms throughout Wales.

“In the time we’ve been there now, we have doubled our broiler output and we are looking now at increasing our Christmas turkey production,” he said. “Last year was a record year with production results. They’ve giving me the go ahead this year to look at increasing those numbers even further.”

The Reward

As a manager, Matthew has had the opportunity to develop skills that affect him and others. Here are two lessons he’s learned about being a good manager.

  1.     Listen and communicate —Make sure your staff feels inclusive. I spend a lot of my day trying to insure that my team knows where we’re going, what I want to achieve and how we’re going to achieve it.
  2.     Understand that your employees have lives — I know its in stark contrast to the traditional management, but I’ve found the more I give them the time to do what they want to do, when I need them at work, they’re there. They’re committed at work knowing that if something comes on at home, they can take the day off.

For those of you starting your careers, Matthew leaves with one piece of advice.

“Trust your gut and trust that you have the knowledge,” he said. “There’s always going to be people in your way…push them. Push them, trust your gut, trust you have the knowledge. You will make mistakes. It happens to all of us. Own up to the mistake and fix it.”

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @mattoldnall https://twitter.com/mattoldnall

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Alex Lowery