Plans to outlaw battery-farmed egg production in the EU in the next two years has led to a boom in free-range flocks in Wales.
New figures released show that there are more than 300 registered egg producers in Wales – treble the number for 2006. This means that Wales now produces more free-range eggs than any other country in the EU.
The trend towards free-range production has been encouraged by Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) processing and marketing grants, which have delivered more than £1m to free-range projects in Wales. Together with private sector outlay, the total investment in the Welsh poultry sector in the last financial year was £7.7m.
With new commercial free-range units averaging 12,000-16,000 birds per unit, the Welsh flock is predicted to rise over the next three years by around 400,000 birds. Another 27 planning applications are currently under consideration.
Euros Evans, who runs an 8000-hen free-range unit at Pennsylvania Farm, Crundale, Pembrokeshire, reckons that, with a shortage of eggs predicted due to the phase-out of conventional cages, Welsh free-range egg production will continue to thrive.
“The modern customer is one who genuinely cares about the welfare of hens, they want to know that eggs have been laid in welfare-friendly conditions,” he says. “Free-range egg production has got to be the way forward.”
But Mr Evans warns that it’s not a business for those who expect to make a quick turnaround on their investment. “It requires quite a significant initial outlay and this can take around 10 years to recoup. It’s not a hugely profitable sector, but you can make a decent living.”
Mid Wales has seen the biggest increase in poultry production, with Powys accounting for 70% of recent projects, from installing new egg packing equipment to building new bird units.
In the global market there is evidence that egg production is shifting to countries where costs of feed, labour and regulation are significantly lower.
DEFRA estimates that 63% of eggs produced in the UK are from battery farms while 32% are free range. The remaining 5% are barn eggs from birds reared indoors and without cages.
* For more on this story, see Phil Clarke’s Business Blog