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30 July, 2017

The rise of the "megafarm": How British meat is made

Part 4 - Inside a poultry megafarm

Richard Williams invited the Bureau to Penhros Farm near the picturesque village of Kington, Herefordshire, where he has four sheds each housing 42,000 chickens. From this farm he produces nearly 1.3 million chickens a year for the giant food company Cargill, which supplies Tesco.

Inside, the sweet sickly odour is overpowering. You can’t see the floor for chickens. The sheds have some hay bales and wooden perches.

They’ve got enrichment,” Williams says. “Windows so they get daylight and fresh air… Is this cruel? I don’t think so”.

The chickens are bred to grow quickly, provide a good yield of meat, eat little feed and be disease-resistant. They are trucked in as chicks. Each batch of chickens is called a “crop” and he has about eight crops a year, cleaning the sheds in between each one.

The farm is slick - a computer-controlled environment optimized to produce safe, cheap meat. The birds are fed on pellets provided by Cargill, which contain soya, minerals and additives, mixed with locally grown wheat. They drink chlorinated water.

Williams says he hasn’t used a single antibiotic since the site was set up two years ago. Instead, he uses a product which changes the birds’ gut flora. “it’s like Yakult, lets the good bacteria grow and stops the bad bacteria growing.

The farm is environmentally friendly, says Williams. The sheds are heated by a biomass boiler fueled by recycled timber waste. The hatchery, feed mill, and factory, all owned by Cargill, are within 15 miles. “Tell me that isn’t a good carbon footprint.

Responding to complaints from neighbours, Williams says the farm keeps local people in work, like the truck drivers who deliver chicks, feed and shavings. His customer, Cargill, is one of the biggest employers in Herefordshire.

Ultimately he thinks this is the most efficient way to produce protein – and that the market shows consumers in their droves choose it over organic meat. “This is producing safe, cheap, available protein,” he says. “Is it any more complicated than that?"

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