Lloyd Maunder is once again looking to recruit poultry producers in the south west after seeing strong growth in its West Country chicken brands.

The family-owned firm has diversified its business away from standard broilers so that now 60% of its output is free-range, organic or RSPCA Freedom Food chicken.

With sales on track to hit 500,000 birds a week later this year, it means 15.6m value-added birds will be produced this year.

Part of the success comes from promoting the “West Country chicken” label even on supplies to supermarket own-brand product, said a spokesman for Lloyd Maunder.

“We haven’t protected the West Country chicken label, but it is only produced by Lloyd Maunder.

It is becoming an identifier that consumers are coming to recognise and seek out.”

Asda has just started to buy free-range chickens from Lloyd Maunder, joining Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Tesco and other retailers already supplying own-label chicken.

And it is popular with growers, too.

Peter Murrell, a former beef farmer who has turned to chickens for his livelihood, said running a free-range chicken unit for Lloyd Maunder was half as much work for twice the reward of rearing Aberdeen Angus sucklers.

“It’s what has kept the farm from going under. If I hadn’t gone into poultry, I would have had to seek outside work.”

He operates four 6000-bird sheds and is contemplating a further two. Six is the most Lloyd Maunder allows for welfare reasons.

Costing about £65,000 to erect each shed, the overheads are low, with chicks, feed and veterinary care supplied by Lloyd Maunder.

Each crop of birds takes eight weeks to rear, with another week required to prepare the shed for the next batch, and brings in about £3500.

As well as knowing exactly where the birds are going and for what price, Mr Murrell also knows he is immune to utility bill rises, because his contract has a cost-plus clause.

“Poultry has given me the ability to keep working on the cattle side of things and reinvest in the property.”

fwbusiness@rbi.co.uk