Got £1m and some spare land? Why not try free-range chicken farming?

PUBLISHED: 11:38 08 June 2018 | UPDATED: 11:38 08 June 2018

Free-range Norfolk Black chickens at Traditional Norfolk Poultry. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Free-range Norfolk Black chickens at Traditional Norfolk Poultry. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Arable farmers are being encouraged to invest in their future by diversifying into free range chicken - if they can raise up to £1m to set up a poultry unit.

Traditional Norfolk Poultry's Traditional Norfolk Poultry's "ideal site option" for new free-range chicken producers, with three buildings for 40,000 birds. Picture: Traditional Norfolk Poultry.

Traditional Norfolk Poultry (TNP), based at Shropham, near Attleborough, operates from more than 50 growing farms across East Anglia, processing 5m birds a year.

With poultry consumption recently overtaking red meat in Britain, the company is expanding to meet the burgeoning demand for its high-welfare chicken.

It has refocused its investment plans on doubling the size of its own processing factory, and away from new farms. Instead, it is offering long-term “turnkey” contracts for farmers to commit their own cash and land to become suppliers – even if they have no experience of poultry.

The initiative, which will be officially launched at the Cereals event in Cambridgeshire next week, will offer packages including site appraisals, planning, building design and full training.

Mark Gorton of Traditional Norfolk Poultry. Picture: Simon ParkerMark Gorton of Traditional Norfolk Poultry. Picture: Simon Parker

The optimum site would require 5ha of land with three buildings to house 40,000 birds, which would cost around £1m to build – although there are smaller options.

TNP co-founder Mark Gorton said the new contracts would offer a 10-year return on investment, and a stable alternative income stream for arable farmers who are exposed to the volatilities of the weather, world markets and post-Brexit farm payments.

“Historically we have always supplied farmers with everything they need to grow chickens for us, but as the business grows and the demand on cash gets more and more we are looking for farmers to invest their own money,” he said. “But in return for that we are offering some good growing contracts which will give them the ability to grow free-range chickens in bespoke, state-of-the-art units.

“We have put together a whole package for the new entrant, which is geared towards the arable farmer who thinks he needs some more eggs in his basket. “We know the farmers we are approaching won’t know much about chickens and it is a lot of money to invest without knowing what you are doing. So we are staying you can come and stay on the “academy farm” and learn exactly what is involved.

Free range chickens being grown for Traditional Norfolk Poultry. Picture: Traditional Norfolk Poultry.Free range chickens being grown for Traditional Norfolk Poultry. Picture: Traditional Norfolk Poultry.

“To me, with Brexit looming, the opportunities are around these areas. I think the future of the poultry industry is a good one and I think lots of the arable farmers that talk to their friends who farm poultry will know this is a good business to be in. It is efficient, and profitable and there are good returns to be made if you put the hard work in and make the investment.

“The demand is there from our customers and we are well positioned to expand. We are investing a huge amount in the business in the processing side and we are moving away from investment in the farms and focusing on the factory.

“A £1m investment is not to be sniffed at, but it’s nothing like the £3m or £4m to put up a big broiler unit. And it is a much more rewarding way of growing chickens. This will give you a ten-year return on your investment, plus giving the farmer a good extra income.”

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