Brexit ‘a factor’ as Sudbury farmer branches out with £1m high welfare poultry rearing business

Hole Farm at Belchamp St Paul is branching out by rearing Norfolk Black free range chickens Picture

Hole Farm at Belchamp St Paul is branching out by rearing Norfolk Black free range chickens Picture: TNP - Credit: Archant

A Sudbury farmer is set to be the first to take up a new free range poultry contract on his family farm which will involve rearing up to 40,000 Norfolk Black chickens.

An aerial artist's impression showing the layout of the three free range units a Hole Farm, Belchamp

An aerial artist's impression showing the layout of the three free range units a Hole Farm, Belchamp St Paul Picture: TNP - Credit: Archant

Harry Middleditch, who runs Hole Farm at Belchamp St Paul with his father David, said they had been looking for a new enterprise to work alongside their arable farming - ideally something that would produce manure and reduce the need for bagged fertiliser.

Traditional Norfolk Poultry's (TNP) Full Cycle Chicken Growing Contracts are aimed at enabling farmers to enter the expanding market for welfare-friendly poultry.

MORE - 'Rare' sale of woodland near Suffolk coast expected to attract strong interestTNP co-founder and joint managing director Mark Gorton said with farming facing an uncertain future after Brexit, the Norfolk-based company believes this to be "an exciting new opportunity for diversification". "After the launch at the 2018 event we've been overwhelmed by the level of interest from farmers across East Anglia," he said.

"We are looking for farmers willing to invest up to £1m to set up a poultry unit. This will bring a substantial addition to the farm income as well as returning their investment within 10 years."

Farmers David and Harry Middleditch gained planning permission for the first new unit, which is now under construction at Belchamp St Paul in Essex. The 40,000-bird free range unit is expected to begin production in late summer.

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TNP, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, has become one of the leading suppliers of high-welfare chickens to major UK retailers. These are supplied through contract production across more than 50 sites, which involves owning the birds, housing and equipment and paying farmers for their facilities and management of the flocks.

The new business model is based on farmers themselves investing in purpose-built static housing specifically designed by TNP for larger flocks while providing the birds with the highest possible welfare. New growers are provided with help in planning, screening, housing and range design-and-build through to comprehensive training.

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"Unlike some other types of diversification, the success does not hinge on the marketing expertise of the farmer - but it does require the farmer to 'buy in' to our whole high welfare farming ethos," said Mark.

The Sudbury project has been designed with help and advice from Jim Lambert and Lionel Halls of TNP.

"We'd been talking to Traditional Norfolk Poultry even before they launched their new scheme last summer," said Harry.

"We were looking at free range poultry which we believe is the future of the industry. There will always be a place for intensive production, but it is the higher welfare poultry that consumers want.

"Brexit was not the driving force behind our decision - but it was a factor. I can see arable farming facing a more turbulent future. Who know what ups and downs lie ahead for the sector? The TNP contract does provide security going forward over the next five years."

Construction of the new unit is under way with the first flock of 40,000 birds due to be placed in early autumn. The poultry enterprise fits into a 950-acre arable farm growing cereals, oilseed rape, peas and beans. The farm also has a flock of 35 Hampshire Down ewes, which has enjoyed success at the Suffolk Show and other events in recent years.

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