Our farm walk host – Johnson & Swarbrick

The family business of Johnson & Swarbrick at Goosnarth, near Preston, Lancashire, will be hosting the annual farm visit of British Goose Producers on Thursday September 21.

They are best known for their ducks and corn-fed chicken with a reputation among some top chefs. They began rearing geese 10 years ago and have also become one of the leading suppliers of goose feathers and down for high quality pillows and duvets. If you’d like to know more about the event, please contact BHR Communications.

Goose production at Johnson & Swarbrick

My father Reg Johnson was always into experimenting with rearing different birds, so in the summer of 2006 we went into pastures new by rearing our first flock of Goosnargh geese near Preston, Lancashire.

Since that summer it has now become a tradition for us to obtain our goslings as day-olds in June. We keep them in nursery sheds on heat for the first six weeks, then they move into the adult housing and go out to graze on our farmland when the weather is suitable.

At Goosnargh we have the benefit of an on-site feed mill, where the goose ration is mixed to a special recipe that we have devised. Once the birds are killed, they are hung for a minimum of 12 hours before being dry plucked and waxed.

Our main market is with restaurants up and down the country but we also supply geese wholesale and to our local supermarket Booths.

Our customers look for geese anywhere from 4 to 7 kg (8.8 lb to 15 lb).

Within our family Bud, Adam and I all have different responsibilities for the farm’s daily routine after Reg was taken from us far too early in November 2015, and we are still finding our feet in some areas. A lot of credit has to go our excellent staff – without them we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Aside from the geese, our main aim for the coming years is to increase production of our Goosnargh duck and corn-fed chicken.

Goosnargh – Hallmark of quality with top chefs

The Goosnargh name has had a reputation with top chefs like Michel Roux Junior, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey and Raymond Blanc for many years.

Ducks, corn-fed chicken and also more recently geese produced by Reg Johnson and his step-brother Bud Swarbrick at Swainson Farm in Goosnargh have been at the top of the shopping list for many restaurateurs. Together, they have won numerous awards including being named ‘Food Heroes of the Year’ in the Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards in 2010 – a tribute to their promotion of food from the county.

One of the leading local restaurateurs, Paul Heathcote, began extolling their poultry products 30 years ago and this led to their reputation spreading to some of the top restaurants in London and across the country.

Our Move into Feathers

As Reg was always looking for new ideas and adventures to help alongsidour day-to-day farming activities and with his wide contacts, he heard that his pal from Norfolk – Michael Shingfield – was coming out of the feather job and selling his feather washing plant.

Reg went down to take a look at Michael’s plant and a handshake later he had done a deal to buy this machinery and re-house it on to our farm in Goosnargh.

We’ve now been in the feather business for three years and so are still fairly new to it all. The feathers we purchase are from farms that dry pluck, mainly in the South and Wales. We use only the dry plucked feather as it keeps better and doesn’t break down too much. So in the season we deal with a number of goose farms across the UK.

As newcomers to the market we’ve seen prices fall by 60% from when we made the investment into the plant.

All our feathers go into the production of high quality pillows and duvets. After the feathers are processed, we move them on to manufactures in the UK and the European Union. We are always looking for expansion in our feather business as supplies of dry plucked duck feather are limited in the UK and, of course, the goose season is so short.

When Reg died suddenly in November 2015 tributes poured in from celebrated chefs, including his friend Paul. They first met in 1987 when the chef challenged him to produce a bird to rival Poulet de Bresse and Poulet des Landes.

Paul Heathcote said: “I’ve known Reg since 1987 when I left Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and went to work as executive head chef at Broughton Park in Preston. He became more of a friend than a supplier. We started this conversation about creating a corn-fed British chicken to rival the French. “Over the course of three decades, Reg and his family business have become the very best contact for every well known chef in Great Britain who prides themselves in cooking with the very best produce.

‘Reg’s’ fame transcended his home village of Goosnargh. His appearances on countless TV programmes and in magazines and newspapers, both locally and nationally, are testament to his skill as a farmer as much as his passion to sell everybody a Goosnargh bird.’

Marcus Wareing, patron of the two Michelin-starred restaurant Marcus, in Knightsbridge, described Reg as ‘a lovely, lovely man’.