• Robert Chapman
  • Farmlay Eggs, Aberdeenshire

Not only was Robert Chapman the first Scottish egg producer to install enriched cages, he is also leading the way in harnessing wind to power his layer unit and packing plant.

Robert runs Farmlay Eggs in Aberdeenshire with his wife Ethel and their children Jennifer and Iain, who all have an active role within the company.

Half of all eggs are sold through Morrisons and the rest go to the local Scottish market. Robert has spent the past year or so developing the Scottish market, targeting a number of local convenience stores and food retailers such as Spar.

“We want to grow the Scottish market because we are a Scottish company with a Scottish product,” he says.

It doesn’t take you long to realise that he has a clear vision for the future. He has invested in enriched cages, the first in Scotland Ð ahead of the 2012 conventional cage ban Ð which are now housing nearly a quarter of his cage birds.

Since installing the enriched system, he has seen extra benefits.

“It provides better hen welfare, as there is more space per bird, plus they have perches and a scratch area,” he says.

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But he remains cautious on converting more cages. “You could spend a million on a new enriched cage unit and then find out consumers don’t want to buy the eggs.

“Similarly, if you invest in free range and then market goes flat due to the credit crunch, what do you do then? We think the best solution post-2012 is to have both enriched and free-range systems,” he says.

The unit runs 145,000 conventionally caged birds, 45,000 enriched and 45,000 on free-range systems. On top of this they also have a number of successful partnerships with producers.

With free range, Robert opted for a multi-tier housing system, which has more usable area and more hens can be housed in the same shed.

“Our biggest flock on multi-tier is 12,000. The sheds are cleaner and fresher, because the dirt is regularly removed from the shed on a fan belt,” he says.

Having seen 88% growth in volume in the past three years, the family’s policy of operating both enriched and free-range systems is paying off.

Because of this growth, Robert doubled the size of the packing centre two years ago, at a cost of £1.3m. Further expansion plans are well on the way, with a new rearing shed capable of holding 32,000 layers in the process of being built.

But while the business is expanding, energy bills are set to shrink because of his investment in renewable power Ð wind turbines.

The capital cost for two turbines was £1m, but they should pay for themselves within five years’ time: “The capital outlay was worth it, we never shy away from investment. It makes good sense to produce our own energy, and we have proposed a further three turbines on a farm we have just bought.” he adds.

“There is certainly no shortage of wind here in Scotland,” adds Robert.

Farm facts

  • 245,000 laying hens
  • Produces 2m eggs a week
  • 88% growth in volume in the past three years
  • Expansion plans for 32,000-bird unit
  • Unique in rearing own pullets
  • 35 employees

What the judges liked

  • Impressive recent business growth and investment
  • Breaking into new markets
  • Not frightened to experiment
  • Geared to supply the market needs
  • Investing in the future