Award-winning Norfolk poultry producer Nigel Joice has added the county’s farm business championship to his trophy cabinet.

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As a first-time entrant in the 33rd annual Norfolk County Farm Business competition, Mr Joice and his son, Patrick, were delighted to win the championship class – and they will be opening their specialist poultry enterprise to visitors on Sunday next week.

Mr Joice, of Uphouse Farm, South Raynham, near Fakenham, who won the 2011 Farmers’ Weekly poultry farmer of the year, produces table birds for the country’s leading supermarkets and supplies Morrisons. He also works closely with Norfolk-based Banham Poultry and will produce about six million birds each year.

His family business was pitched against five of the best farm businesses in Norfolk as the two judges from Somerset toured the contenders for the supreme award. The runner-up was Sir John White’s Salle estate, near Reepham, which, under the leadership of manager Poul Hovesen, has won the title on at least five previous occasions.

The other finalists included North Norfolk dairy farmer Stephen Temple, of Copys Green Farm, Wighton, near Wells; south Norfolk arable farmer and contractor Robert Alexander, of Bush Green Farm, Pulham Market, and another former multiple champion, Kit and Tim Papworth, of LF Papworth, of Lodge Farm, Felmingham, near North Walsham.

The judges, Archie Montgomery and Ruth Kimber, were unanimous in their decision in what was a very close result, according to Christopher Self, secretary of Aylsham Agricultural Show Association.

“It is also notable that a specialist livestock enterprise has won the supreme championship, probably for the first time since the competition was launched,” he added.

Mr Joice, who was vice-chairman of the National Farmers’ Union poultry board until earlier this year, has always demonstrated industry leadership in producing table birds. And their decision to invite visitors as part of the Open Farm Sunday event is another first for the ‘intensive’ poultry sector.

“It has not been done before but we thought long and hard about showing what we do as poultry farmers. It is not something that has been done before in the intensive sector. All sectors of the industry are supporting us including the NFU, the British Poultry Council and the Red Tractor quality mark.”

He said the support of Morrisons, which sells only 100pc British chickens, had been invaluable.

“To be honest, we would not probably have done this without their input,” he said.

“At Uphouse Farm we take great pride in the way we manage the farm. Our chickens’ health, happiness, welfare and environment are our first priority.

“From the minute the chicks arrive in our care, the whole farm team dedicates their time and energy to looking after our flock,” said Mr Joice.

As energy is one of the biggest costs in rearing poultry, he and his son have invested in a major on-farm biomass plant. The farm’s energy plant is fuelled by poultry manure to heat water, which is pumped around a 4.7km network of underground pipes to the 16 poultry houses on two sites.

A team of seven, including the poultry manager, rear the birds in a flock cycle of about seven weeks and typically about 800,000 chickens would be on the farm at a time. They feed about 12,000 tonnes of whole wheat each year as well as about 18,750 tonnes of compound poultry rations to produce about 12,000 tonnes of chicken a year.

Since the farm’s energy centre was built last year, it has made it possible to replace a fossil fuel, liquid propane gas, by using a mix of poultry manure and wood chip to fuel two 500kw burners. All the heat for the chicken housing is now produced on farm and the next phase will involve selling surplus heat to generate electricity for the National Grid, probably next year.

Mr Joice said that visitors would be able to see hatching chicks and also handle them on Sunday, July 1 between 11am and 4pm, with staff from Banham Poultry’s hatchery.

“We hope our visitors will appreciate a very positive story. We’re putting special partitions in the doorways on the end of the shed with windows,” he added.

A number of other attractions, including Richard Savory’s sheep show as well as competitions, would be available at the free event. No dogs, please, said Mr Joice.

michael.pollitt@archant.co.uk

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