Poultry (indoor broilers)
POULTRY & ARABLE, NORFOLK: William is the third generation of his family to farm this land and has overseen an era of dramatic change.
His grandfather and father were tenants on 2,000 acres (809 hectares) and employed 22 people. But since inheriting the tenancy, William has transformed the business. Previously the farm had simply grown and harvested arable crops but William decided to expand by renting another 1,000 acres (405 hectares) and to go into poultry production as a way of diversifying.
In 2017, he built four sheds housing 155,000 broiler chickens (for meat rather than eggs), but their construction sparked vigorous opposition from the local community, many of whom opposed intensive, indoor livestock production.
The experience took its toll on William and he confesses to sometimes wondering if it was worth the emotional cost of being alienated in a village that has been his home for around 60 years.
However, William feels things improved considerably once the broiler unit was up and running and the things people feared most, such as noise, odour, impact on employment and increased traffic, did not materialise. He’s now added another four sheds and the eight sheds between them produce 2.4 million chickens a year. In time he plans to add two more sheds.
The farm is run on a circular system, with one part feeding another. The sheds are heated by a biomass boiler, fuelled by straw from the farm’s arable fields. Chicken manure is used to fertilise the crops, and solar panels generate electricity for the chicken sheds.
The arable enterprise, which William has now bought, produces wheat (some of which is fed to the chickens), malting barley, sugar beet and oilseed rape. Land is also rented out for pig and potato production.
Meanwhile the rising cost of labour combined with new technology has seen William’s workforce shrink to just three employees.
He has also diversified into livery stables, holiday cottages, a small shoot and solar panels; while his brother has set up a glamping business on the farm. William is also planning to open a farm shop.
His grandfather would barely recognise the farm today, but William believes change was vital in order to survive the volatility of modern farming. He hopes his chicken sheds will ensure the survival of the farm for generations to come.
Member of National Farmers Union (NFU)
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