Norfolk family animal feed firm's international role

A self-taught nutritionist, John Tuck, who has died aged 83, helped to turn a family's traditional south Norfolk animal feed firm into an international business.

A self-taught nutritionist, John Tuck, who has died aged 83, helped to turn a family's traditional south Norfolk animal feed firm into an international business.

In a remarkable partnership with older brother, Ralph, feed millers Tucks of Burston blazed a trail with innovative animal rations over more than five decades. It left national feed compounders struggling to catch up as Tucks exported to France, Spain, Germany, Denmark and even Iceland. Again, John's fluency in French and Spanish helped too.

When a national competitor, Pauls, now BOCM Pauls, took over the company about 18 years ago, Tucks still had a bigger export business.

The family's windmill and mill house at Burston, where he was born, had burned down in 1933 when a flint in barley sparked a fire. As mill dust is 50pc more explosive than coal dust, the cap was blown off. And Diss firemen were on strike, so the fire engine never arrived.

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He went to Diss Grammar School, after helping before and after school in the mill, when raw materials came in bags and all the feed went out the same way.

His father had re-built the mill, but another fire in 1943, when a hot coal fell out of a boiler, almost ruined the family business. He survived, partly by bringing back 'Tottenham Porridge' - or swill - from London for animal feed.

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After war service as a radar operator, then classified as top secret in HMS Vanguard in the Clyde, John returned home, where his father was in declining health as a result of the strain of keeping the business afloat. As the mill had been damaged by fire, not enemy action, the business was denied official access to building materials. However, bricks and machinery were found and even a new wooden floor came from a former silk works in Stowmarket.

A new mill was built after the war to his design which survives today although much expanded. His diets, calculated by slide rule, transformed growth rates and boosted yields. He visited the United States to access research on animal feed and brought back a 12-month intensive beef ration, special night feeds for ducks and a 16-week turkey feeding system.

Tucks were one of the first to introduce dairy feed contracts and the pig industry was transformed by the 'Tuck Technique' of 21-day rations for weaning piglets indoors.

Speaking at the 60th anniversary of Tucks in September 1982, the then company chairman, welcomed about 4,000 guests to a week of celebrations at Burston. He said: 'What made the successful early weaning of pigs possible was the introduction almost 20 years ago of Instinwean and Equo sow milk replacer.'

In the feed industry, he was a respected leader of Ukasta (UK supply trade association) and used to organise Norfolk's turkey balls.

Outside work, he was a founder member of Diss Round Table and the Diss Rotarians.

He was married for 59 years and leaves a widow, Mary, two daughters and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at St Mary's parish church, Diss, on Tuesday, January 26, at 2pm.

Michael Pollitt

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