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  Pilot farms

Bank farm, Doug Wanstall

      The 600 hectare farm has always been a mixed unit, with a dairy herd until the late sixties. However, the business has changed dramatically in the last fifteen years, with a significant impact with the building of the M20 and the more recent rail link to France.

      The free range egg laying flock of chickens was introduced in late 1998 and the Wanstalls are also involved in a contracting business to carry out flock management for neighbours. The farm also has a sheep flock for wool and lambs, and arable crops.

       Free range is where the hens are not kept all the time in cages (battery hens), nor in “barns” (in crowded conditions, not allowed outside), but are allowed outside to roam in search of food and in the sunlight. They are fed both inside and out, and cleanliness is a priority. The market in the UK is towards free-range eggs (which are often a different colour and may taste better), or even organic eggs. The organic market is still small and requires a price premium.

      Doug carefully assessed the UK egg market and noted the bad reputation of battery hens, with their mass production with low costs and low prices, serious concerns about animal cruelty and also increasing flock and human health fears. He decided that free-range was the way to go for him, that it fitted his ideas, and matched the rest of his farm system, with a reasonable financial return. He now has an excellent flock of over 12,000 birds, and manages neighbouring flocks as well. He sells mainly Class A eggs, each labelled with codes indicating the best before date, farm name and method of production – free range. Class A eggs are a good size, top quality and never washed – they don’t need it, and it may occasionally cause fungal mould or bacterial infection!