Free-range egg producer/packer Blackacre Farm is launching a new education and marketing campaign, promoting its “single-tier” system of housing over “multi-tier”.
The new “No Multi-tier here” campaign will be taken to exhibitions and conferences throughout the UK, and will involve leaflets, presentations in schools, online resources and social media activity, using the hashtag #NoMultiTierHere.
Describing multi-tier units as “the equivalent of high-rise urban living for hens”, Blackacre says its birds are “free to roam on luscious pastures throughout the day, soaking up those all-important daylight hours, before returning to sleep in their single-tier sheds at night”.
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“The term ‘free-range’ has lost all meaning, as it refers to everything from a multi-tier industrial unit housing thousands of birds to a handful of laying hens in a family’s back garden,” said managing director Dan Wood.
“Thankfully we’ve been able to keep up with demand without compromising our principles, partnering with other likeminded family-run farms in the South West.”
Dose of reality
Mr Wood told Poultry World he was not intending to run-down the multi-tier system, but he wanted to explain to consumers the reality of production.
“There is a place for multi-tier. How else can supermarkets offer free-range eggs for 79p for six? But without telling the public about it in an open way, there is then the danger of someone doing an expose on the sector. We just want to highlight what is happening, so that people can make an informed choice.”
But the move has attracted criticism from some in the free-range egg sector.
Phil Crawley of Sunrise Eggs in Leicestershire said his business ran both multi-tier and flat-deck systems. “I prefer multi-tier,” he told Poultry World. “The welfare is better and the feather cover is better.”
Mr Crawley said he did not like condoning one system and condemning another. “Every system has its strengths and weaknesses. Chickens are evolved from jungle fowl and, when I look at multi-tier, I see a metal tree, which gives them an opportunity to climb, as they would in their natural environment.”
Robert Gooch, policy director at the British Free Range Egg Producers’ Association, said his organisation supported a wider range of different production systems and different-sized units. “I don’t feel it’s helpful to promote one over another.”
Mr Wood agreed that multi-tier does have some advantages, but said it was at odds with public expectations.
“Because we are small, we need to have a point of difference so that we can make a better return and then pass that back to the other family farmers that supply us,” he added. “We are aware this could be controversial.”