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It’s said that the best things come in small packages, and a UK poultry producer seems to be proving this to be true.
The 36-year-old Paul Sykes, founder of Paul’s Poultry and Game, in Coleshill, Swindon, won a gold award for his hand-crafted venison and mushroom pie and a silver award for his chicken and mushroom pie in the recent Taste of the West Awards. Taste of the West is a regional food and drink trade organization for the Southwest of England that organizes, amongst other things, an annual awards program.
Sykes has only been in business since 2006. He quit an office job, sold his house and rented 10 acres of land and set about producing free-range chicken and guinea fowl. In addition to this, he also started locally sourcing game, all from within a 10-mile radius of his butchery. It was a case of realizing a childhood dream.
Sykes believes that his poultry meat is so good because his birds are happier. Small flock size equals less stress, he says, resulting in much happier birds. Spotting a problem with 300 birds in a shed is much easier than with 5,000, and there is no routine use of antibiotics. This small scale allows him to prepare all birds in his own butchery.
Sykes also likes to give birds a good start and chicks have access to the range from about three weeks of age. Being in the UK, however, this much depends on the weather! His farm has specially planted game cover strips, providing ranging and food opportunities for the birds.
“At the end of the day, I want to know that my food has had the best possible life. The only way I could be sure of this was to rear my own birds. I’m 100% convinced in my mind that I give my chickens the best possible life and, in return, I truly believe they taste better for it too,” he says.
The award-winning pies have only been in production since April this year, and Sykes says that he is "over the moon" at being recognized. Alongside the pies, the farm also produces chicken liver pates and wood pigeon terrine. Produce is sold locally and at Notting Hill Farmers' Market.
While Paul’s Poultry and Game is hardly going to solve the food problems of the world, it is good to see that there is still a place for small-scale producers and that businesses operating at this level can be successful. And while the gold award may have gone to the venison pie, with the chicken pie coming in second, it would seem that Sykes has been able to have his pie and eat it too. His birds are happy and he is too!