Susie Macmillan is the 2019 Farmers Weekly Poultry Farmer of the Year.
A glance at The Mac’s Farm social media channels quickly shows that this is a business in very close touch with its customer base – something that has become increasingly important, as all its eggs are now sold either wholesale or direct to the public.
The farm is home to 18,000 organic layers, and owner Susie Macmillan places great emphasis on high standards of bird health and welfare. Even the oldest birds have a full complement of feathers, testament to the care and attention she gives them.
The Mac’s Farm, Ditchling, East Sussex
- 36ha of grassland and trees, situated just inside the South Downs National Park
- Seven part-time staff members and three sheds
- Part of the family-owned Grassington Rangers free-range egg business
- Direct sales to 250 regular customers through The Egg Shack
- Diversified into camping and events, attracting thousands of visitors (and customers) each year
By working very closely with her feed supplier and veterinary advisers, Susie has also raised bird performance, to the extent that her organic hens are now on a par with many non-organic operators. In one shed, for example, output has climbed from 276 eggs a bird at 72 weeks to 325 eggs a bird over the course of three flocks.
On top of the game
The business is very much a family affair, with Susie’s husband, Danny, and their children all actively involved.
Securing a good price for quality eggs is also a priority. In the past, this was achieved by selling on contract to Noble Foods. But after a drop in packer price, Susie decided to sell wholesale and increase direct sales of The Mac’s Farm eggs. With 250 regular customers, direct sales now account for half their trade.
The new approach was seriously challenged earlier this year when one major wholesaler dropped out, leaving Susie with a massive surplus.
Driven by a will to succeed, part of the response was to hold a “pick-your-own” day, using her social media profile, supplemented by an offer of free tea and cake, to pull in customers. “We were astounded when more than 1,000 people turned up to buy our eggs, and they keep coming back.”
The farm has also diversified into events and camping – this brings in revenue of its own, as well as attracting additional customers for the egg business.
As well as a sound technical and financial performance, maintaining a high profile for farming on social and national media is also important for Susie.
In the past she has featured on Jamie Oliver’s Friday Night Feast to encourage the use of pullet eggs, and on the BBC’s One Show, persuading the public to buy more “mediums”. She has also had a regular farmer’s slot on BBC Radio Sussex.
In addition, the farm hosts numerous visits and open days during the year and has over 9,000 followers on Facebook. Susie also makes egg donations to charities and food banks.
“We have had challenges from vegans, but it is always best to engage and explain, rather than to demonise,” she adds. “Honesty is always the best policy.”
Rehoming is another feature, as Susie is loathe to see spent hens heading to the slaughterhouse. “We started this 10 years ago and, by working with Fresh Start for Hens, we are now able to rehome every bird we deplete.”
As for the future, Susie’s plan is to consolidate and to secure a long-term contract with wholesalers, to have better control of the price.
- Face-to-face engagement with the public and through social media channels
- Ambassador for the small family farm, appearing on all media
- High health status and good feathering of older hens
- Close monitoring of finances
- Improving hen performance through partnership approach with feed company and vet
A word from our independent judge
“The Mac’s Farm does an excellent job in combining community engagement with a profitable organic egg business. Breaking away from their packer to sell wholesale presented challenges – which they have met head on.”
Shraddha Kaul, British Poultry Council
The 2019 Farmers Weekly Poultry Farmer of the Year category is sponsored by NSF International
The other finalist was:
Nigel and Sue Smith
Stonecote Farm, Bedale, North Yorkshire