Friday, 15 October 2010

Birds - I'll never understand them ....

Day 2. Somewhere in Devon.  I’ve been adopted by a very nice family, who feel sorry for me.  They feed me organic chicken and duck confit.  They give me Jack Daniels ..... straight. They put up with my inane chat despite having a very long to-do-list.  They let me do a few easy jobs that I make difficult; which in the end would have been easier to do themselves. There are a lot of birds, making a lot of incoherent noises.
I’m at Higher Fingle Farm, home of the Amiss family .... all seven of them.  They are so nice I get kind of emotional just thinking about them and their kindness.  Rona Amiss is a Nuffield Scholar too, one of the brethren that knows the secret handshake and the code words (OK the last bit is just an attempt to make it sound mysterious).  Both her and her husband, Nevil, are the kind of humble people that I warm to.  Before I visited - Rona’s portrayal of their business was modest and self-deprecating. This made me feel comfortable as I have a great deal to be modest and self-deprecating about.
As a team, however, Nevil and Rona have built an incredibly impressive business from very little.  They are Country Living/Waitrose Gold Medal winners; suppliers to Duchy Originals and thus best mates with Prince Chaz; their daughter, Elsa, has been on Blue Peter and the Alan Titchmarsh Show for the Duck Egg business she set up.  They have more awards than anyone I have ever known.
Their farm is only 57 acres yet they are both full time and progressing. They employ two men full time, more part time. The keys to having this kind farm business on just 57 acres are 1) intensive enterprises - ducks and duck eggs; 2) added value - the ducks are branded, organic, killed and butchered on the premises, some sold retail; 3) marketing; 4) profiting from their expertise (they have another business that contracts out organic broiler chicken production); 5) more marketing and 6) even more marketing with sugar on top.
Apart from their resourcefulness, I was most amazed at their marketing (as you may have guessed already). Most Thursdays I put some lambs in my trailer, drive to Stirling, drop them off (whilst trying too hard to bond with the yardsmen), get a coffee and a sausage roll, then drive back.  Sometimes I phone later to ask what they made. That’s it ... that’s my marketing.  It seems that half Rona and Nevil’s business is marketing .... and 99% of their reasons for getting to where they are.  They could have still had the brilliant products but they had to be marketed and that meant actually doing deals and selling as opposed to opening a trailer door in Stirling.
Nevil took me on a tour of Higher Fingle .... we saw ducks, sheep, cattle and the butchery. Rona took me on a tour of Devon .... we saw chickens .... more chickens ... and cute little ducklings.  I suspect I had my jaw open most of the time.  This poultry job amazes me.  We met a man that probably made close to £50k profit off 38 acres (more in the good times) and got planning permission for a beautiful house, because of his profitability.  Intensity of production means intensity though.  There is always a threat of stress because there is always a threat - broken contracts, grain price spikes, over-supply, poor end price.  Poultry is heading into difficult times and threats loom large.  
I headed back to Scotland with clucks and quacks ringing in my ears. Intensity of production ... its still the way forward but I’ll need to do more than open trailer doors. 


Rona Amiss said...

Thank you michael you are too kind, I love the photo, chickens are quite nice really.How about breeding a featherless easy care chicken. Must be a marketing opportunity there!

Caroline said...

Blimey, Rona's a quiet one, isn't she - I didn't realise she got up to so much! She'll be delighted(!) to know that thanks to your lovely write-up, her place is on my list to visit when I get back ;)