Chickens rule the roost at business meeting

First core business workshop of the “Farm for the Future” programme

There was a French flavour to the first Core Business Workshop on the Royal Countryside Fund/PfL “Farm for the Future” programme as the participants descended on Fosse Meadows in Leicestershire.

Co-owner Jacob Sykes, who runs the chicken farm with his partner Nick Ball, explained how the couple had travelled to France to find the perfect chicken breed to match their vision.

‘We were two people who loved food, and we wanted to produce a chicken for the market that was better than anything you currently were getting in the shops,’ said Jacob as he explained that the business strategy was underpinned by a high level of willingness to take risks.

The chicken farm began life with just 50 chicks in a shed. Now, less than  decade later, the operation includes thousands of free-ranging chickens, 3,000 turkeys, a few sheep and a dog that patrols the grounds to deter any hungry foxes.

From the days when Nick and Jacob did everything on the farm themselves and the chickens were sent miles away to slaughter, Fosse Meadows now sees the chickens from birth to death to market place. A huge investment into a slaughter and packaging house is paying off as the Fosse Meadow produce flies off the stalls at various markets, largely across London.

The selling point and quality of Fosse Meadows Farm produces is that these are free-range, slow-grown chickens. The traditional French breed chickens are slow-reared to full maturity, (to 81 days), with access to mobile sheds during the daytime when bad weather occurs and overnight for protection from foxes. They are fed an additive-free ethically sourced diet with full access to wild flower pasture and hedge rows, roaming freely, scratching around in the clover fields and at the bottom of trees and hedges.

Jacob shared the ups and downs of his and Nick’s journey with the group, and through a lively and interactive discussion, the course participants were able to take away a number of learnings that will feed into their own businesses.

While Jacob was able to pinpoint exactly what had factored into the growth of the business at Fosse Meadows, independent agronomist Charlie Curtis was on hand to offer advice from the viewpoint of both large corporates (she previously worked with M&S) as well as how government policies and fundings could impact farming operations of all scales and types.

Among the key points to emerge from the discussions was the observation, from Jacob, that very few farmers calculated how much income they needed to make a profit per hectare. Once all the costs of producing the crop had been added up; how much did that crop need to sell for in order for the farm to make money? As BPS slips away, that will be a crucial question at the heart of the business plan for each farm.

Charlie Curtis left the group with her thoughts on three essential things that should underpin each farming business: Use your common sense when putting together your business plan; be methodical with the paperwork; take time for yourself and realise you can’t do everything.

And, using some examples from his own experiences, Jacob added that the real skill lay in turning a problem into an opportunity.

The next RCF/PfL Business Meeting for the East Midlands region is on Friday 24 November at the Allerton Project. Please book via the Eventbrite link:

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