Chicken & Egg Issue 11 - page 17

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17
There are ample good reports on the
current growth of free range. Glenrath,
based in Scotland, is one of the biggest
free range egg producers in Europe, if
not the world, and although it spent
millions converting barren battery cages
to colony units (they have 200,000 in
colonies), the company is already
upgrading and now forecasts that all its
hens will be free range within
10 years
.
Not only that, but I was delighted to
learn that Glenrath has decided to
make use of its ‘seconds’ (that’s egg
unsuitable for supermarket shelves) by
investing £6m in a processing plant to
produce liquid egg, a product that the
UK still regularly imports.
So what is free range all about in 2015?
EU legislation stipulates that for eggs to
be termed ‘free range’ hens must have
continuous access to runs which are
mainly covered with vegetation and
have a maximum stocking density of
2,500 birds per hectare (1 hectare = 2.47
acres). The hen house accommodation
allows a maximum stocking density of 9
hens per square metre of useable area
(the same as for barn hens), and hens
must be provided with nest boxes,
adequate perches (15cm per hen), and
one-third of the ground surface must
allow the birds to scratch and dust bath.
It has been just over
10 years
since British
free range farmer, John Widdowson,
discovered how his hens enjoyed the
shade and protection of the trees on his
farm in Devon. John’s observations led
to him becoming the trailblazer for
Woodland Eggs, Sainburys primary brand
and from thereon in welfare benchmark
was set high for free range farmers across
the UK.
As we know, hens instinctively seek shelter
and protection, a behaviour that goes
back to their jungle fowl ancestry, but the
need for good range facilities isn’t
acknowledged by all free range farmers,
yet.
The RSPCA sets down detailed and strict
standards for those farmers who sign up to
the Freedom Food policy and the British
Lion, which appears on 95% of UK free
range eggs and also has a similar strict
code of practice for farmers. Here’s what
the guidelines tell us about free range life
today for laying hens:
There are the rules on how many hens
farmers can keep, currently 2,500 per
hectare (one hectare equates to just
under 2.5 acres). Birds are encouraged
out onto the range by the provision of
shade and shelter and this can be natural
or artificial. This shade and shelter has to
be within a certain distance from pop
holes and distributed evenly across the
range area so that the birds feel
comfortable to move freely and do not at
any time feel exposed to predators.
Provision of llamas or alpacas is also
encouraged as hens recognise their ability
to deter predators and make them feel
protected. Shade and shelter also give
protection against bad weather with wind
breaks advised to ensure the hens can
keep out of the worst of it.
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