“At least they have a bit more space than conventional free range hens,” said Susie Macmillan who owns the farm and runs the business with her husband and two brothers. These hens are organic and kept under Organic Farmers and Growers standards. “Because we are organic, they have a third more room – six birds a square metre as opposed to nine birds a square metre in conventional sheds. They have big dust bathing areas inside, too.”
Although the total number of birds sounds big, Mrs Macmillan said that commercial free range flocks can be colossal: the big free range units can have as many as 64,000 birds in one shed, and 32,000 birds in a shed is the norm. “You have to be big these days, and we are not big enough.” In the last six months, The Mac’s Farm has stopped supplying supermarkets and now just concentrates on small wholesalers who sell the eggs into shops, restaurants and hotels.
Mrs Macmillan was speaking just after DEFRA confirmed another outbreak of bird flu on a farm in Suffolk, and said the impact of the flu hitting her farm would be horrific. “Every single bird would have to be killed and the clean up process is very expensive and lengthy. It would be a disaster.” The Mac’s Farm also runs a 28 day campsite in the summer, a food kitchen and school visits, all of which would suffer too.
“We are going into more tourism,” Mrs Macmillan said. “That is a much bigger sector and I hope it will help to hold the farm up. We cannot stay farming without diversifying.” Luckily, The Mac’s Farm is not in a higher risk area in the current bird flu outbreak, so the birds should be able to go outside after 28 February. “Like many of the poor farmers in the higher risk areas who will have to downgrade to barn egg status after 28 February, we cannot afford to do that for one day because our costs are so high.”
This is what Mrs Macmillan has explained to existing customers when they have asked questions about the current outbreak. “We have actually picked up more customers since this happened. They have just shown support in their footfall. They have spoken to their friends, and we have not had any negativity.”