Tree-planting venture helps NI free-range poultry farmers

The Woodland Trust has helped Northern Ireland egg packer Skea Eggs to plant native sapling trees on 13 of its free-range farms, covering a total of 15ha (37 acres).

Once established, the trees will provide shelter, enrich the hens’ ranges and encourage birds to roam outside, said the charity.

Trees were planted as part of The Woodland Trust’s “MOREwood” scheme, a free consultancy service for landowners wishing to create woodland. A spokeswoman encouraged farmers across the UK, who wanted expert advice on concerns such as appropriate species of tree or the best density for laying hen ranges, to get in touch.

She added that the charity could help supply the trees and put farmers in touch with contractors, if necessary.

According to The Woodland Trust, there is a wide range of welfare and environmental benefits to planting a range. One study in 2011 found that trees, when planted near popholes on a free-range shed, appeared to reduce injurious feather pecking. They also encourage other wildlife, such as insects, and capture environmental ammonia.

See also: Free-range layers encouraged to eat more insects

“This is an exciting venture for us,” said Richard Cummings, farm liasion officer at Skea Eggs. “The trees should, before long, offer the hens shelter and shade, and an important sense of security from predators.”

The charity encouraged anyone considering tree planting on ranges to get in touch before autumn – the best time of year to do so – by calling 0845 293 5689.

See more