Want to become a chicken connoisseur or a poultry master? Running your own chicken farm in the UK takes more than just agricultural knowledge. If you want to start a successful farm, you must also have a business person's mind to grow and scale a profitable farm business.
From understanding the complicated regulatory and legal requirements to planning for your farm business's cost and determining an appropriate pricing plan, there is a lot that goes into a good farm. Without taking the time to slowly and steadily start your farm business, you’re at a much higher risk of failure and losing all you’ve invested.
So take your time, build your farm business bit by bit, and use our complete guide to poultry farming in the UK below to guide you as you begin this new endeavor.
Know the Legal and Regulatory Requirements
Depending on the kind of poultry farm business you’re running, you’ll need to obtain certain licenses and meet regulatory as well as legal compliance standards. First, let’s take a look at the licenses you’ll need as a farm, and then we’ll pivot to general regulations and touch on more specific regulations based on the type of farm land you build.
Before starting your farm, you should be aware of the licenses you’ll need to obtain and the price of each. Here’s what you need to know:
- Suppose you are running a hatchery on your land with an incubation capacity upwards of 1000 or a breeding operation of 250 or more birds. In that case, you’ll need to register with the Animal and Plant Health Agency. If you’re in Ireland, you’ll need to register with the Dept. of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
- If your establishment includes more than 350 laying hens, you’ll need to register with APHA or DAERA.
- If you are holding a broiler flock, you must notify the APHA of that.
- If your commercial property contains over 50 birds, you must be included in the Great Britain Poultry Register through the APHA.
- Suppose your land is above a certain size. In that case, you’ll need a special permit from your respective regulatory body, whether it be the Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Environment Agency in England, or Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
If you want to be sure you don’t miss anything important, you can find more information about what actions you need to take from your local trading standards department. They will also be able to tell you more about prices for licenses in your area.
Additionally, if part of your poultry business is preparing, selling, or storing food (including any processed eggs or meat), you’ll need a license from your local environmental health agency. To get registered, they’ll inspect your property and ensure full compliance with the Food Safety Act. Don’t worry. There’s no price to register.
Beyond licenses, it’s helpful to know a few general regulatory guidelines before you get started:
- Marking Regulations state that all Class A eggs must be marked with an identifying code for their source, country of origin, and production method.
- You must follow the Marketing Standards Regulations, including the time frame for when eggs may be offered for sale.
- The Environmental Protection Act places a “duty of care” on you to store and dispose of waste properly.
- Various feedstuffs legislation requires that you register with Trading Standards if you decide to mix feed on your land.
Depending on whether you’ve chosen a farm for egg production, broiler production, organic products, and more, there may be additional specific regulations that you will need to research.
Choose Your Target Market
Before you get to work on anything, you’ll first want to select the best target market by estimating current demand for the product you want to sell, looking into the options of trade sales vs. public sales, and deeply understanding the customer wants and needs.
Come up with an estimate for the number and type of customer that will buy your product.
Typically most poultry sold in supermarkets is produced by a few large corporations with well-oiled processes and economies of scale that allow them to supply birds for retail at low prices.
It’s also worth noting that intensive egg production operates on slim profit margins when they house their birds in enriched cages.
With that in mind, make a realistic estimate of the size and location of the market you hope to serve with your business.
You’ll likely do a mix of both trade sales and public sales. Depending on how you plan to run your farm business, your trade sales may make up a large portion of your overall sales. Some of these trade clients may be:
- Local retailers
- Egg packers
- Local restaurants
You want to understand whether the price these trade clients are willing to pay will earn you enough profit to continue growing. To do this, get in touch with some of these client types and inquire about the prices they typically pay for farmer’s products.
Then, make a list of local establishments that may take your products, see what they would pay, and gauge their interest level.
You may need to plug in some numbers to see how those trade prices would fare for your upcoming farm business.
If you plan to sell directly to the public, you’ll want to find a realistic estimated figure of how many people would purchase from you this way. You could call around to farmer’s markets, small shops, and individuals to get a temperature reading on how willing they would be to purchase products from you.
Keep in mind that public sales, also known as farm gate sales, don’t typically make up a large portion of poultry sales overall.
Understanding the Customer
If you don’t know what your customer wants, you’ll lose before you even begin. To get a better idea of where they stand, you could create a survey or spend time interviewing prospective customers. Try to figure out what their pain points are, what they want to see in their eggs and poultry, and how you can solve those problems.
Plan Out The Cost Of Your Poultry Farm Business
Without a financial understanding of what your farm will cost, you’ll be going in blindfolded. Start out with a strong estimate of the costs you’ll incur, so there are no surprises along the way.
First, determine the type of farm business you want. That plays a big factor in what your costs will be. Then, estimate your sales considering things like typical yields and mortality.
Don’t forget to take into consideration the price of the equipment you'll need as well.
Determine Type of Business
In starting a farm business, you’re not limited to just one type of business. You may even plan to operate as more than one of the following:
- Breeding or Hatching - You may breed or hatch small chicks and then supply these to other businesses. You’ll keep a breeding flock within a temperature-controlled room and should aim for a 13:1 ratio of female to male birds. Your hens will lay eggs, which will then go into an incubator for at least 18 days. On day 21, they usually hatch and are then sold at just a day old.
- Pullet Rearing - This means you’ll supply chickens that are of age to lay eggs to other companies. This means you’ll rear the birds from chicks (either garnered from a breeding operation or bred yourself) to adults and then send them to a business that will house them while they lay eggs.
- Laying Flock for Egg Production - You may decide to be the part of the supply chain that keeps a laying flock of chickens for egg production. They will typically bring in pullets at 17 weeks and produce for around 52 weeks. There are several different methods that can be used, from free range or organic to intensive, barn, or perchery farming.
- Broiler Production - Finally, this is the production of poultry for meat. In this line of work, small chicks are brought in and fattened up as they grow old within a controlled space. Depending on the environment they are raised in, they are typically fattened for anywhere between 46 and 56 days before they are killed for consumption.
Of course, the two things that will have the greatest impact on your cost and sales will be the quantity you sell and the price you can get for each unit. The less you sell and the lower the price you earn for each unit, the more you’ll owe, and the lower your profits will fall.
The price you earn for each unit will be determined by the nature of your farm business (intensive eggs vs. organic eggs) and the demand in the market. The quantity, on the other hand, will be affected by the limits of your premises and the financing you have upfront for the costs. You may also be limited by the number of employees or how efficient your farming methods are.
Additionally, don’t forget to consider:
- The level of experience you have
- Unexpected mortality levels of the birds
- Lower egg yields or broiler growth rates than anticipated
Let’s dive in a bit deeper on those last two bullets.
Yields and Mortality
Keep in mind that, when working with poultry, you can only estimate how many eggs your birds will yield or how fast the birds will fatten. You also may overestimate how many birds will last and experience higher than anticipated mortality rates.
Here are a few helpful figures based on The Farm Management Pocketbook as you estimate:
- Enriched eggs - 310 eggs/bird/year
- Free range eggs - 300 eggs/bird/year
- Barn/perchery eggs - close to free range yields
- Chick production - 80-85% of eggs laid in a year by the flock may be suitable to hatch
- Enriched eggs - 5% mortality
- Free range eggs - 5% mortality
- Barn/perchery eggs - close to free range mortality
- Pullet rearing - 3% mortality
- Broiler production - 5% mortality
Pricing and Promoting
From pricing your items appropriately to promoting them to the right people, how you approach the sale of your products will impact the success of your farm business.
To determine standard pricing, check out the DEFRA portion of the Gov.UK website for up-to-date pricing information for eggs and poultry. For descriptive purposes, some of the figures you may expect to see include:
- Enriched eggs - 55 pence per dozen average price
- Free range eggs - 85 pence per dozen average price
- Perchery and other eggs - 75 pence per dozen average price
- Day-old chick for sale to lay eggs - 65-70 pence per dozen average price
- Day-old chick for sale to broiler - 20 pence each average price
- Pullet - £4.10 each average price
- Broiler - £1.90 each average price
While you may believe that your eggs or broilers are worth more than the above, your prices will be largely contained by market standards. Why should someone pay double for your product when they can get something extremely similar for half the price? Unless you’re providing a value to the customers that they won’t get anywhere else, you’ll likely face pushback if you’re trying to sell at too high a price.
If the market standards scare you away, then starting a farm business in the UK may not be the best path for you.
Establishing the Business
With most of the thought work and paperwork out of the way, it’s time to get to work, establishing your farm. This entails things like setting up buildings, purchasing and assembling equipment, hiring employees and securing financing.
Before you can have a farm, you’ll need land. On that land, you’ll need to build out the coops, barns, or whatever infrastructure you’ll need to operate. Make sure you have enough land to handle growth still to come. Then, set up all the equipment that you’ll need and ensure each piece of equipment works properly.
In order to operate the farm, unless you plan to do everything yourself, you’ll need to hire employees to keep your processes going on your land. It’s helpful to hire those with experience, especially when you’re not a true farmer yourself.
Finally, there’s a good chance you’ll need to secure financing before you’re able to do some or all of these things. It’s rare for someone to have the capital they need to start a huge business venture like this in cash, so don’t worry if you need a loan. By securing investors or getting approved for a small business loan, you’ll be able to afford your up-front costs and make up for it on the back end with stellar profits.
With all systems in place, it’s time to start promoting your farm to drum up business about your new product. You don’t have to do everything when it comes to promotion, but you will have to do something. Some of the most effective forms of promotion for farmers today are social media, events, a solid website, and traditional marketing.
Even if you’re farming out in the middle of nowhere, don’t let your location keep you from interacting with your target market. Social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, are great places to find other farm businesses and individuals who may be interested in purchasing from you.
Industry events such as trade shows are opportunities to promote your farm business to those in your field. They can connect you with other attendees that could become major trade partners or get you in touch with experts who may be able to offer advice as you grow and scale. Don’t forget to bring business cards and promotional material with you to these events.
Any business that hopes to be successful today needs a strong website to do so. On your website, people should be able to easily learn about your farm, how to contact you, what you produce, and who your team is.
Ideally, someone interested in becoming a partner of some sort should also be able to contact you or learn more about that kind of opportunity.
Start by creating your own simple site to save on price or hire a web designer to build something that looks clean and professional.
Don’t miss out on the value that traditional marketing can bring your farm. Use things like brochures to distribute at community events, print ads in local publications to get more eyes on your brand, and even radio placements to speak directly to your audience – especially if you live in a rural area.
Grow Your Poultry Farm
With systems in place and your promotions going swimmingly, you can begin to innovate upon your business and start to grow your farm into something thriving and successful.
Here are a few best practices to keep you on the path of exponential growth:
- Create Reporting Systems - Log all of your sales, financial losses, and business growth. Check frequently to determine whether you’re making or losing money. From that data, adjust to improve the bottom line.
- Network - To be successful in any industry, you need to be plugged into the field and aware of other key players. Submerge yourself in this world through networking and connecting with other farming businesses.
- Seek Funding - You may need further funding down the road, and that’s perfectly fine. As you pay off your loans, you’ll build credit and may find it easier to qualify for more money at lower rates than before.
There’s no getting around the fact that starting your own poultry farm is a major undertaking. However, with proper agricultural knowledge and a bit of business acumen, you could be running a profitable business before you know it.
Use the guide above to start your poultry farm business plan and refer back to it as you grow into the next major player in the UK market.