Great British Free-Range Farmers
We are proud to say we are staunch supporters of the British egg industry; welfare in the UK is amongst the highest in the world and our great British farmers are willing to listen to consumer concerns on welfare. Making a difference to hen welfare means we need to listen to the farmers too and learn more about why they farm as they do.
We think it’s important to understand the farmer’s view on the egg industry and as such will be running occasional interviews with a range of different egg producers so you can learn more about our farmers who are flying the British egg flag.
Free-range hens with a sea view and freedom to sleep in tree perches at night? Who’d have thought it! Well that’s just what some of the lucky hens at St Mawes Hens in Cornwall enjoy as well as regular dust baths and regular escapes into neighbouring fields.
Run by husband and wife team Rachel and Alastair Weir, St Mawes was established in 2017 with just four chickens and a cockerel, which soon turned into 50 hens. After initially being run as a cottage industry selling eggs at the gate and to friends, St Mawes became fully registered and certified and began selling in shops and supplying the catering trade – it was only at this point that Rachel and Al decided they could no longer name their hens!
The 1,100 hens at St Mawes – made up of mainly Leghorns who lay beautiful white eggs – have eight acres of prime Cornish countryside to roam about on, spread over three sites, one of which includes sea views. The flock even includes one cockerel, who we’re told likes to think he’s a hen and can often be found sitting in the nestboxes looking rather perplexed.
The farm is made up of both Soil Association-certified organic flocks and non-organic birds, though even these live and organic life apart from their feed. Rachel and Al say animal welfare, including allowing hens to go about their natural behaviours, is crucial to them. So crucial in fact, that when not looking for bugs and creating crater-sized dust bathing spots, some rogue hens can be found escaping or hiding their wares among the vegetation. Some even choose to perch in trees at night, which Rachel and Al have allowed as they look very happy on their natural roosts.
So proud are they of their set up that webcams are being installed overlooking both the fields and the sheds at St Mawes – a Big Brother for chickens if you will.
One particularly pleasing part of life at St Mawes is that hens are kept at least twice as long as usual – including some who are in their third year of laying! All of which we bet makes for extra tasty eggs. Speaking of which, Rachel and Al told us their favourite way to enjoy theirs is simply scrambled, with just a knob of butter. Sounds like bliss, for both them and the hens.
Black Dog Free Range Eggs
Devon business, Black Dog Free Range Eggs, is run by a family who have been producing free range eggs for over 20 years, and set up the brand in 2013 to deliver eggs direct from farm to consumer. The farm is RSPCA accredited and a member of the British Lion scheme.
Hens at Black Dog are free to enjoy a scratch, a dust bathe and a natter with their feathered friends. They’ve got footballs and haynets to keep them occupied, and that’s before they venture out to roam around a 70 acre field.
In order to feel safe and confident hens need cover overhead, such as trees or shrubs, before they will venture too far outside the comfort of their shed. Which is why the team at Black Dog have erected man-made shelters and planted trees to give their hens protection in case a natural predator flies overhead, meaning they can spend less time worrying and more time eating bugs, leaves and seeds. Ideal.
The hens live on feed from a local mill which uses wheat from nearby farms, including Black Dog. Feedback is then given to the mill about the condition of the hens.
Phil puts it best himself when he says: “Keeping the hens healthy is crucial. We know that bright-eyed and bushy-tailed hens lay hearty, healthy eggs.”
Our Flying the British Egg Flag feature is all about celebrating free range farmers doing great things for hen welfare across the UK, and farmer Phil Sherratt is no exception.
The free range British Blacktail hens living on the Gloucestershire farm under Phil’s care enjoy only the best conditions, and are free to roam from dawn to dusk within an area double the size than that required under legislation.
Having started working with free range hens in 2003, Phil is the third generation of his family to farm in Gloucestershire, and has grown his flock over that time from 8,000 to 19,000.
He rears his own hens from day-old chicks which are given perches and raised areas to encourage them to move throughout the house, therefore preparing them for the conditions they can expect once they are moved into laying quarters at 16 weeks old.
Phil makes the food for his hens at his own mobile mill and mix plant, and his girls are given a natural cereal diet with no artificial colourants.
If that didn’t make them spoilt enough, how about the natural bedding and scratching materials they’re given, plus the alfalfa blocks hanging in hay nets to give them something to peck at?
“To encourage the hens to range further from the hen house I have put up artificial shelters so they are protected from the weather and wild birds,” continued Phil. “As an example, I have used an old hay-rack and also corrugated tin sheets nailed onto fencing stakes – shelters don’t have to be expensive. As well as this, I have also planted hundreds of native trees and this combined with existing hedges and established trees provides natural shelter as a way of helping the birds to feel safe, therefore meaning they will wander further.”
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