News from the Farm Gate by Milly Fyfe

I’ve gone into egg production. A few weeks ago I registered with the British Hen Welfare Trust to secure some laying hens that are passed their best point of production (in commercial terms). I didn’t have to wait long before I received an email to say that there would be a nearby delivery of hens for redistribution and so I put my name down for three. 

My grandfather kindly made a hen house as a wedding present so I had a new abode for my ladies to frequent. I collected the hens in an old puppy cage and introduced them to their new home back on the farm. It was amazing to watch the hens scratch about as they had never felt what grass feels like under their feet before, or how the wind blows against their feathers. In reality, intensive chicken farming and egg production are very efficient business models, however are far from the idyllic views many would imagine ‘happy hens’ to inhabit. According to the British poultry council (amongst other sources) Chicken meat is now the most favoured source of protein in our diets compared to pork, beef or lamb. Convenience and price are the biggest drivers in this step change which has put added pressure on the supply chain to deliver. 

Indoor broiler units can produce a bird for the table in 5 - 6 weeks from chick to chicken. They are provided with a warm environment with deep litter, plenty of stimulation, access to water, food and space. I recently listened to a presentation 

where a farmer could control the environment of his chicken sheds with the use of an app on his mobile phone. Technology is advancing at great speeds within farming and this has played to an advantage when looking at improving animal welfare, reducing the cost of production and increased efficiencies too. Biosecurity and environmental impacts can also be scrutinised more carefully as a result of close monitoring with such technology and this will play an important role in the future when seeking to expand and increase market shares. 

My laying hens produce 3 eggs for me each day. They are still in their old habits of laying one egg per bird a day as they would in the commercial units. I’m not complaining, although I have started to stockpile eggs as I’m not at home long enough to utilise them. Thankfully we have lots of neighbours who like the idea of our locally sourced free range eggs, and so I have recently set up an honesty box to share our produce and charge a premium too! 

By the time you are reading this article you will probably be thinking about what meat you will be ordering for Christmas day. My advice would be to visit your butcher or farm shop and enjoy something that has been produced locally and has a traceable supply chain. You will also be helping to boost your local economy, help with employment and keep small businesses open. These are the businesses that help to keep the farming industry afloat and ensure a more profitable return on the hard work that goes into food production. 

If you haven’t already stocked up on Christmas cards or a 2016 calendar, the R.A.B.I. produces a range each year with colourful picture designs and countryside themes. Thanks to members of the guild of agricultural journalists who donate rural images they have taken throughout the year, the R.A.B.I. calendar has been compared to the Countryfile calendar. An added bonus is that all the money made from the sale of calendars goes towards R.A.B.I. and so if you would like to find out more information or to order visit www.rabi.org.uk where you can download an order form. 

“Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”

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