Demand for free-range chicken prompts change of direction for Norfolk poultry farm
- Credit: Archant
An expanding Norfolk poultry farm has brought chickens into its traditional turkey business for the first time, in response to rising customer demand for free-range food.
As well as breeding 400 seasonal Norfolk Black turkeys, which they have done for 10 years, Simon and Karen O'Malley at Chestnut Farm in Hingham are now processing almost 2,500 high-welfare free range chickens per year – with a capacity to grow that figure up to 10,000.
The move – which prompted a company name change from The Black Turkey Company to Chestnut Farm Poultry – was taken to satisfy demand from the butchers, but also to make year-round use of the cold stores and production facilities which would otherwise have only been employed for the Christmas turkey trade.
Mr O'Malley said: 'We put in all the infrastructure and barns and cold stores for the turkeys – and then we just used them for two weeks a year. It is crazy, so that is when we asked the butchers whether they would be interested in a high-welfare chicken. Now we are processing every week.
'I do think the younger generation are more savvy about where their food comes from and they want to see it outside, with the higher welfare standard. So we needed to be able to do that, while keeping the birds at a competitive price.
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'We like to take our chickens to a minimum of three months to mature them. The meat has a better flavour and we dry-pluck them so you get a better finish.
'And we mill our own feed, so we can tailor the ration for what we want for a slow-grown bird. It is a very simple diet, using oats, wheat, minerals and soya and milk powder.'
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The chickens are housed in luxury sheds, designed to look similar to glamping pods, which were built with recycled timber.
The poultry is sold directly from the family farm, and also through local butchers including FL Edge and Son in East Harling, Tony Perkins in Attleborough, Mills and Sons in Southwold, Salter and King in Aldeburgh and Watton Traditional Butchers in Watton.
Mrs O'Malley said: 'In the last three months, we have doubled the number of butchers we supply to and the feedback has been really positive.
'We get the chickens as day-old chicks. We do everything from there, and they go directly from our farm to the butchers, so we have got full traceability and a nice story to tell.'
Mr O'Malley spent eight years in the Royal Engineers, and after leaving the army in 2003 he worked for the East Harling Internal Drainage Board (IDB), where he still does some contracting work.
Meanwhile, Mrs O'Malley worked for 15 years at World Horse Welfare in Snetterton – inspiring a passion for animal health and living standards which has been carried into the poultry business. She said: 'I think once you are into animal welfare it does not matter which animal you are looking at.'