John Jewson, a poultry farmer in East Anglia, UK, has a farm surrounded by houses on three sides and has had to tread a careful line between running his business and keeping his neighbors happy. While the family farm has reared various species over its history, Jewson has found that poultry farming is now the answer.

At Poplars Farm, near Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, Jewson has three sheds and approximately four acres, from which he runs a commercial pullet replacement operation, taking in free-range chicks and rearing them to point of lay.

“It is a very niche operation,” said Jewson. “This is realistically the only kind of farming that can fit onto a site like this.”

Changing circumstances  

It hasn’t always been like this, though. Jewson, aged 57, is the third generation of his family to work the farm.

It was set up 110 years ago by his grandfather, Jacob Jewson, who was a wheelwright and coffin maker before branching out into farming.

“He actually bought the land for someone else, but then decided he liked the look of it and began to farm it himself,” said Jewson.

His father then developed the farm after World War II, when it was mainly a pig farm, keeping approximately 100 breeding sows. Twenty years ago, the farm began to see the potential for free-range chickens. By then, much of the land surrounding the house had been developed for residential use.

“It’s just as well we moved into chickens because I think running a pig farm would be very hard here now,” laughed Jewson.

“But we are able to keep a very tidy operation with the chickens, and we have never actually had a complaint from our neighbors.”

He rears the chicks for Country Fresh Pullets, keeping them for 16 weeks before passing them on. The type of breed reared varies greatly depending on what kind of stock needs to be replaced. At the moment, John has 10,000 Hy-Line Brown and 20,000 Lohmann Brown in his sheds.

“It’s a very tight operation; my wife does the book-keeping, and I do just about everything else. I don’t like to count the hours I do in a day,” he said.

“When the chicks first come in, you are walking round every six hours, night and day, to check everything is OK and dealing with any problems that have arisen.”

However, he has found modern improvements in farming methods have made running the farm easier.

“It’s all automatic feed lines now. One great development in the last few years has been the increasing use of modules for moving the chickens round,” Jewson said. “That’s been an investment that has really paid off. It’s very welfare friendly for the chickens and makes life a lot easier for the catchers.”

Jewson said so far, his business has not been badly hit by the recession, although he has a worried eye on future developments in the market.

“At present, the economic climate is not making a big difference to our business, but if the egg price dropped, we would feel it,” Jewson said. “A lot of that is down to the producers getting their figures right, if there are too many chickens on the floor around the country we could have oversupply. For now, however, they seem to be getting it right.”

Investments should be recognized  

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Jewson is also proud of the independence of poultry farmers but feels the government could do more to help the industry.

“We always stand on our own two feet; we don’t ask for help in the way of grants or subsidies. Poultry farmers have made large investments in the last few years in improving welfare conditions for our birds. I would like to see the government help us by making sure that imports stick to the same standards.”

Despite the long family history at the farm, Jewson does not think his two sons will be going into the business.

“They see the long hours I work, and the holidays I don’t take, and they think there has to be a better way of making a living,” he said.

The poultry side of the farm has a turnover of approximately £50,000 a year, and Jewson has had to diversify. He has discovered a talent for renovating property and now has his own building company, developing properties to rent in the area.

Eye on the future  

His most recent investment on the farm has been a solar power system, which cut his electricity bills by 50 percent. The 50 kilowatt ground-mounted system occupies a small parcel of land next to the chicken sheds and in daylight conditions turns the farm into a completely green operation with power left over to export to the grid. The panels were installed by EvoEnergy, one of the country’s largest solar power companies.

“They are actually doing better than we expected, producing approximately 20 percent more electricity than anticipated,” said Jewson. “On a typical day, we are using approximately 12 kilowatts of power, and the panels are producing approximately 40 to 48 kilowatts.”

Under the feed-in tariff scheme, designed to encourage businesses and homeowners to produce more green electricity, Jewson is paid for all of the electricity he produces, whether he uses it or not. He is also paid for exporting power to the national grid.

“The scheme lasts for 25 years, and I often joke that this is my pension, because it will be generating money as well as electricity long after I’ve retired,” said Jewson.

Jewson decided to go for a ground-mounted system rather than put the panels on the roofs of his sheds, because he was worried about adding extra loads onto the roofs. He also felt the dust from the ventilation system might settle on the panels.

The panels are very close to the houses surrounding the farm, and Jewson had feared that there might be objections.

“In fact, we didn’t have any objections, and one neighbor even wrote in a letter of support,” said Jewson.

Working on a site surrounded by houses, he has managed to build a successful poultry farm. Jewson uses the latest developments in the industry to run a more efficient business and make him a better neighbor.