How British Farmers Keep Free-range Eggs at the Top of the Basket

UK – The annual general meeting and conference of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) was held yesterday, 27 November in Solihull near Birmingham. Jackie Linden reports.
calendar icon 28 November 2014
clock icon 5 minute read

BFREPA’s meetings seem to be going from strength to strength with an excellent turn-out of 450 delegates at their latest meeting, which took the theme ‘Keeping free range eggs at the top of the basket’.

In his welcome speech, newly elected Association chairman, Myles Thomas [pictured above] commented on how much the free-range sector and the organisation has changed over the last 20 years.

The main issue facing the sector is the coming ban on beak-trimming, which is expected to be confirmed next year and to come into effect in 2016. Research shows that injurious feather pecking and cannibalism in hens are not at all straightforward issues and can occur even in the best-managed flocks for reasons we still do not fully understand.

Mr Thomas said it is not too late to postpone the legislation and he encouraged delegates to lobby their MPs ahead of the parliamentary discussion and final vote on a future ban of the practice.
The BFREPA event is hosted and organised by feed company, ForFarmers, and its Sales Director, Mike Youney, added his welcome.

Free Range Awards

A number of awards were made by the BFREPA Chairman:

  • Retailer of the Year: Sainsbury’s
  • Food Business of the Year: The Lakes Free Range Egg Company
  • Marketing Initiative of the Year: Happy Eggs
  • Breakthrough of the Year: Longhand Isotopes
  • Egg Producer of the Year (less than five years in business): James and Margaret Baxter of Glenhead Farm
  • Egg Producers of the Year (more than five years in business): Anthony and Lorna Gaden
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Terry Ellener of Hy-Line
  • Winner of the Calendar Photo Competition: Rachael Rice

In addition, two special awards were made – to immediate BFREPA past chairman, Roger Gent and to long-term supporter of the organisation, David Trick.

Conference chairman, John Retson, introduced the three invited speakers.

Retailers Viewpoint

Kelly Watson, Agriculture Manager – Poultry with Sainsbury’s began by outlining the company’s history and explained that the retail market in the UK has become highly competitive as retail volumes have remained static while retail space has risen.

Shopping habits in the UK have also changed, as consumers shop more frequently but buy less in order to reduce waste and spend less money.

Consumers are also buying more online and at convenience stores and discounters, she said, and Sainsbury’s is responding to these changes by opening two new convenience stores a week and trialling a joint venture with Dansk Supermarked in which some Sainsbury’s stores will be shared with the discounter, Netto.

Sainsbury’s has for some time sold no cage eggs and Ms Watson confirmed that the same will apply to Netto’s entry level egg offering.

She went on to stress the Sainsbury’s relationships with its farmers and suppliers – and it works with more than 17,000 farms across all produce – are important to both the retailer itself and to its customers. The supermarket chain works through a series of Development Group farms to deliver benefits throughout the supply chain using data and technology so ensure it is fit for the future, added Ms Watson.

Producer Speaker

Previously a pig farmer, Philip Twizell started free-range egg production only in 2009 and so is now in week 54 of his fifth flock.

He spoke honestly that he is in the business to make money and explained the challenges he continues to face in doing so.

Mr Twizell stressed the importance of good husbandry, attention to details and the need to monitor every aspect of the business “so you know what is going on before the hens do”.

Veterinary Perspective

The current health challenges of old free-range sites were addressed by poultry vet, Alastair Johnston of Minster Vets.

With the recent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu in Yorkshire at the forefront of every mind in the industry, he stressed the vital importance of biosecurity as a way of preventing diseases that lead to catastrophic losses or to lost output.

As there has been little research on the range as a source of health problems, he outlined a small trial he carried out, measuring contamination in soil samples from the range area of two egg farms.

The results highlight some simple ways for free-range egg farmers to manage the outdoor area to reduce the disease burden on their birds, such as ensuring the areas around the popholes are as clean and dry as possible.

Mr Johnston concluded by stressing the importance of other simple hygiene measures such as footdips at the entrance to buildings with disinfectant kept at the correct concentration and plenty of facilities for effective handwashing.

“Biosecurity on the farm is not rocket science,” he added.

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