A couple of weeks ago, very early in the morning, I travelled down to a farm in Peterborough to spend some time on a happy egg co. farm to find out what makes the brand’s hens quite so happy, as well as discovering how an egg farm works.
Farmer Tony greeted us and introduced us to his family’s farm and their business. It was a beautiful sunny day perfect for getting outside, so we got our sexy outfits of overalls and wellies on, and we were transported down the road to the farm where the hens are kept, in a trailer attached to a tractor!
We were then introduced to two more egg farmers who collect and go through all of the eggs and pack them into boxes using machines, and look after the hens every single day. It was so interesting hearing about how it all works on a happy egg co. farm and how much they care about the chickens that they look after.
We were taken into the area where the 16,000 chickens are kept in the massive building, which was slightly overwhelming at first, and we walked through them all as we learnt about them more. I had no idea until then how sociable chickens are – they want to be around each other and around you, and as we stood still we were quickly surrounded by hundreds of them!
The chickens on the happy egg co. farm have four different levels to move about on as well as the ground, which they love, and they have constant access during the day to outside (they can’t be allowed outside at night as foxes would get them). As this is a relatively new and young batch of chickens to the farm, a lot of them were still spending a lot of time indoors, as it takes them a while to discover how lovely it is outside! When we first saw all the chickens inside it did seem to be like it was a lot in one space, but actually it was clear that they did have a lot of space to move around – they just choose to be near each other, and they could spread out if they wanted to.
They’re still happy chickens inside though – we were taught how you can tell by the noises they make that they are happy and stimulated, and told how they enjoy moving up and down the separate levels freely. They looked happy and healthy too, and just wanted to be near us. The farmer talking to us clearly loved what he does, and cares that the chickens are well looked-after. It’s a job that you would have to dearly love to do, as the days are long and requires them to close the hatches before it gets dark 365 days a year, no matter what they are doing!
There are lots of ‘toys’ for the hens to peck at and play which they apparently love, and everywhere looked very clean, which I wouldn’t have expected for a place with that many chickens! The cleanliness of the building is maintained by a system which collects the poo and that can then be easily disposed of and disinfected.
The hens have a covered area for them to go to lay their eggs whenever they want to, that then collects all of the eggs into a machine at the end of each row and carries them safely to the room next door where the farmers then sort them. There is also plenty of food and fresh water for the hens at all times.
They’ve also been working with a student who suggested covered ‘walkways’ to encourage the chickens outside by providing them with a bit of shelter as they start to venture outside, and apparently it’s working really well. They really do want their hens to be healthy and I love that.
Of course having happy hens also means better eggs for us! Hens that are well-looked after and happy produce better eggs – that are better quality, with a brighter yellow yolk and that taste better. The more we buy free-range eggs, the less demand for caged eggs there are and so less hens will be caged in poor quality conditions with miserable lives. The price difference is not even that much any more so we should all be buying eggs from free-range hens if we possibly can.
We then went outside to the big grassy fields that the chickens are free to roam around on. It was a bright day and the chickens prefer it to be duller, so there weren’t loads out there, but lots followed us out and wandered around us. It was a huge expanse of space, with cows in the field next door which the chickens are encouraged to bond with as it’s good for them to have companions!
At one point the questions were asked which I’m sure none of us really wanted to hear the answer to – what happens to the chickens after the laying season is over and the quality of the eggs has deteriorated?
The happy egg co. farmers were very open about it, and told us that the chickens are then used for meat (but it wouldn’t be as whole chickens that we buy). It’s not a nice thought and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the whole thing, but I think I have to accept that this is just how the world works. The chickens are well looked after and live a happy life on the farm, even if it is a relatively short one. It’s going to happen anyway, so I appreciate that the welfare of the chickens is important whilst they are alive.
After that we got to enjoy an amazing eggy brunch created by a brilliant chef who talked us through his menu.
Chorizo and feta frittata with red pepper dressing
Scotch egg with turmeric mayonnaise & pickled vegetables
Shakshuka with vine tomatoes, feta & warm pitta bread
Lemon tart with pistachio and blueberry jam
All of the food was absolutely delicious and I especially loved the scotch egg – it was bloody amazing as were the pickled veg. It has really encouraged me to think about cooking meals with eggs more, and not just eat them as part of a breakfast with toast. I’ve been eating eggs a lot more since my visit to the happy egg co. farm – they are so good for you and the limit on how many we eat each day or week is apparently nonsense, which was good to know!
I had such a lovely day at the farm, and really enjoyed finding out about egg farming and how the farmers keep the hens happy. I also came away with some happy eggs, some other eggy goodies, and an egg cookbook to broaden my egg horizons! I can’t wait to get cooking!
I was invited to visit the happy egg co. farm and compensated for my time, but all words and opinions are my own.