Canadian Poultry Magazine

Features Profiles Researchers
A Day With ISA


April 17, 2009
By Dr. Peter Hunton Poultry Consultant

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April 17, 2009 – In three decades, ISA has grown from a relatively small company with a limited product range, to an international giant.

I had the privilege to spend a day at the headquarters of Hendrix Genetics, owners of ISA, during a trip to Europe last year. ISA is the short form for Institute de Sélection Animale. The headquarters of the company are now located at Boxmeer, the Netherlands, although ISA originated in France. The company owns and markets the ISA, Babcock, Bovans, Dekalb, Hisex and Shaver brands worldwide.  Hendrix Genetics also owns Hybrid Turkeys, based in Kitchener, Ont., and Hypor, which breeds hogs and has a major breeding centre in Saskatchewan. It recently sold Hybro, its broiler breeding division, to Cobb-Vantress, with which it maintains a strong marketing and shareholder relationship.

ISA is one of the only two well-established primary breeders of egg-layers currently supplying the world market with parent and grandparent stock. The other is the EW Group, located in Cuxhaven, Germany.

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The first thing that impresses the foreign visitor is the company conference room. Visitors are welcomed by their national flag and national anthem. So company President Thijs Hendrix, ISA Marketing and Sales Director Arian Groot and I stood for a moment to listen to O Canada!

Thijs Hendrix is extremely conscious of the heritage of the brands he currently controls. In his office, he has photographs of most of the “founders”, including Donald McQ. Shaver, Monroe Babcock, Gus Van den Eynden (founder of Hisex), Madame Studler (founder of ISA) Milo Shantz (founder of Hybrid Turkeys), Jim Warren of J.J. Warren fame, and also Thijs' parents, who were in the hatchery business in the mid-20th century.

Hendrix Genetics has evolved rapidly over the past decade. It originated with the forming of Hendrix Poultry Breeders in 1991, when Thijs Hendrix bought out the poultry breeding assets of Hypeco. This was the origin of the brand name Bovans. In turn, this entity became part of the Nutreco conglomerate in 1998, thus incorporating the Hisex brand. In 2000, they acquired the breeding stock and name of Dekalb Poultry Research in the U.S. The company Hendrix Genetics b.v. was created in 2005 to acquire the assets of Hendrix Poultry Breeders from Nutreco, when the latter exited the layer breeding business. In the same year it purchased ISA from a private capital group in France. Later, when Nutreco decided to exit the animal breeding business entirely, Hendrix Genetics bought the Hybro, Hypor and Hybrid Turkey companies. In 2008, Hendrix Genetics entered into a strategic alliance with Cobb-Vantress in the U.S. This involved the sale of Hybro in exchange for shares in Cobb-Vantress, guaranteed by Tyson Foods, plus a marketing arrangement that gave Hendrix Genetics a place in the meat chicken field. 

The company is also a large player in swine breeding with Hypor, which absorbed Genex in Saskatchewan as well as some major assets in France.

Rationalizing the poultry breeding programs of these formerly separate structures has been a complex job, but with the additional lines available, presents the prospect of new cross-breeding opportunities.

BREEDING CENTRES

There are three main centres where pedigree breeding and selection takes place. These are located in the Netherlands, where the original Bovans and Hypeco programs were located; the Normandy region of France, where ISA and its progenitors established its headqurters in the 1960s; and in Ontario, Canada, based on the Shaver farms around Cambridge. Hybrid Turkeys is also located in the Kitchener area and the Hendrix Genetics Canadian office is located where Hybrid Turkeys formerly operated. In addition, the company has a long-standing joint venture with the Venky Group in India, where the local version of the Babcock B300 has been bred for the past 30 years.

These centres conduct all of the primary breeding work for the company's products. This includes pedigree breeding, selection and reproduction, and the multiplication phase to yield grandparent stock.

In addition to these locations, which offer an extreme level of biosecurity, there are others spread around the world in which field testing of experimental crosses and progeny tests can be undertaken in commercial conditions.

Although each centre has its own team of geneticists, there is a corporate Breeding Research and Technology Centre headquartered in Boxmeer that deals with overall policy and cutting edge research. I had a fascinating session with the director of this centre, Dr. Gerard Albers.  Albers has a long history in the commercial breeding business and provides wise advice to the other members of the team. In addition, Hendrix has an arrangement with University Wageningen University under which the company subsidizes a laboratory where molecular genetic testing is undertaken. Technology developed here has enabled the company to carry out genetic testing of its lines for literally thousands of genes at very low cost. They recently won a competition for funding from USDA for a comparison of genetic progress using molecular genetic techniques with that using the traditional selection programs. Total cost of this program is $10 million, and it involves scientists in the Netherlands, France, Canada, Spain, Sweden and the United States.

MULTIPLICATION AND DISTRIBUTION
Although the company owns some of its distribution network in Europe, its overalll policy is to sell parent or grandparent stock to independent distributors or integrators. This is in order not to compete with potential customers. Grandparent farms under company control are strategically located in North and South America, Europe and Asia.  In addition North America is served by Centurion Farms in Georgia, which distributes parents of the Bovans brand. Parents are sold to a total of eight independent hatcheries in Canada.

While there are few independent hatcheries remaining in the U.S., Merrill's in Idaho maintains a longstanding relationship with Shaver, and this brand also recently became the preferred breed choice for MFA, a co-operative in the U.S. midwest whose 16 members control 20 million layers.

Elsewhere, many parents are sold directly to integrators and to hatchery customers who in turn produce commercial chicks, either for sale or for use in their own commercial operations.

The company has strong technical skills with which to back up sales. In recent times, the decision has been made to discontinue printing management guides for commercial products and to place all technical information on the company website. This has the benefit of avoiding printing costs, and also has the advantage of keeping information continually up to date.

In not much more than three decades, ISA has grown from a relatively small company with a limited product range, to an international giant, with a range of layers that will satisfy every possible customer. The association with Hendrix Genetics provides stability and resources. The Dutch have a long and successful history in the poultry industry. Thijs Hendrix and his team are good chicken people. It would seem that this part of the layer industry is in good hands.


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