Goose producers returned to Lings View Farm in Leicestershire at the recent British Goose Sector Group farm walk to see how things had changed from their last visit in 1991.
Back then, the Botterill family was running out of processing capacity for their Christmas turkeys and geese. And the free-range bronze turkey revolution was just getting into its stride and turkeys were squeezing out the established goose operation.
At one point the goose flock was down to 800 at Lings View Farm, but had increased to 1200 in time for the 1991 visit. Since then, the annual goose flock has risen to 1500 birds and there are plans for it to reach 2500 now that the family has a new processing complex built by farm labour for £100,000.
“It would have cost double if we have used outside labour,” said Richard Botterill. He is confident that the goose market will grow and the introduction of year-round, free-range slow-growing chicken will keep the plant occupied throughout the year.
Ask where the extra sales will come from and he gestures towards his fellow producers, rearing free-range table birds.
The new plant, he explained, has brought every processing operation has brought under one roof from the lairage and wax plucking to the high capacity evaporator room where carcases are held at 0-2C for up to two weeks to mature before being eviscerated.
Looking forward to Christmas, he believes this year’s prices for goose will have to take account of a massive increase in costs led by feed up by £70 a tonne.
He added: “It looks like at least 10% up on last year if we are to keep pace because if we don’t, we won’t be here next year.”
“Over the years, the increasing difficulty of recruiting local labour to pluck the birds for has led to an increasing dependence on agency labour, mainly from eastern Europe.
“We find that they don’t mind hard work and are prepared to work on their own initiative. This Christmas they will probably make up 50% of our plucking team of 14 or 15 people,” said Mr Botterill.