18 August 2018 | Online since 2003

30 November 2016

Leading producers recognised at ‘Egg Oscars’

Richard and Andy Higgins of Bitteswell Farms collect the award for Producer of the Year - over 16,000 birds from BFREPA chairman James Baxter

This year's egg Oscars were presented to the country's leading producers during a ceremony to celebrate the best of British free range.

The annual awards of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) were held during the association's 25th anniversary conference at the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham. The awards, which were sponsored by Elanco, were divided between a family with years of experience in the sector and a couple who are relatively new to free range egg production.

The award for the producer with more than 16,000 birds went to brothers Richard and Andy Higgins of Bitteswell Farms near Lutterworth in Leicestershire, who have developed their business into one of the largest independent free range producers in the country. The award for the producer with 16,000 birds of less was presented to Paul and Shelly Traves, who started producing eggs in 2011.

Paul and Shelly Traves of Croft Farms collect the award for Producer of the Year - under 16,000 birds

The Higgins family egg business began in 1956 with just six hens. Today the family has 120,000 birds, it rears all its own pullets, mills its own feed and recently it invested a million pounds in a new packing centre. Thousands more were spent to secure British Retail Consortium Class A approval.

The award judges were particularly impressed with the family's integrated approach to the egg business. In their award citation, they said. "The Higgins family have deliberately followed a strategy of managing and keeping control of the entire egg production process, rearing their own chicks to point of lay, milling their own feeds using all locally grown grains and producing and marketing their own brand, Bitteswell Browns, into major supermarkets, other retailers and caterers across the Midlands."

They said, "The judges were impressed not only by the excellent performance of Bitteswell, but also by the attention to detail found within the business and the ability of Bitteswell to contain costs and be super-efficient. By controlling the whole production process, the business is in a good position to adapt and adjust to the ups and downs of the market. The support for local grain farmers was also commended."

Richard Higgins told the Ranger, "We have always reared our own birds. Historically we were cage producers so we had a packing station. As we came out of cages and more into free range we kept doing the same thing, but grown somewhat. We produce our own pullets, we grade our own eggs, we produce our own feed, so we keep as much control as possible in the operation."

Andy said what they did enabled them to maintain close control over the whole operation. "It's attention to detail. We're in total control of everything we do and all the products we use. We even buy grain from local farmers, so everything is sourced locally. We genuinely have a very low carbon footprint." For supermarket customers, an integrated operation enabled the company to demonstrate the provenance of their eggs, said Andy.

"And it's nice from a personal point of view," said Richard. "We've all got children and grandchildren and it's nice to think you are looking after the planet as best you can. It gives you a feel good factor as well. As well as a business factor it's a personal feel good factor of doing things in-house, as welfare friendly as possible and as environmentally friendly as possible."

The brothers said they were very pleased to receive the BFREPA award, but insisted that the credit should go to the staff, who ensured the success of the business. "We are delighted to receive this award on behalf of our families and all our loyal staff who, after all, they need a mention because without them this wouldn't be possible," said Andy.

Paul and Shelly Traves farm near Skegness in Lincolnshire and only entered the egg business five years ago. They previously had a dairy unit on their 150-acre farm. They stopped milking in 2000, then had some beef cattle before venturing into free range egg production. Their eggs go to L J Fairburn and Son.

"We decided to go into chickens in 2011. We had a lot of help off Daniel and Stuart Fairburn getting started. We put a 16,000-bird unit up and off we went," said Paul Traves, who said the change to egg production was not easy. "There was a lot to take on but, with us being serious animal lovers in the first place, it seemed to make it go quite well. And we had massive amounts of help from the Fairburns, so it wasn't too bad at all," said Paul.

Their award citation read, "What stood out for the judges when they decided Paul and Shelly Traves should win this award was their absolute passion for their birds. They quite obviously live and breathe chooks. Their results (340 eggs/bird on their last flock) have been consistently excellent and their attention to detail, particularly around the welfare of their birds, is constant," it said.

Paul insisted that there was no magic formula for good egg production. "We just spend a lot of time with the birds, attention to detail, bio-security," he told the Ranger. "Just trying to do things right all the time, really. There's no big secret." He said, "We spend quite a few hours a day with them, just trying to make sure that everything's right. And then double checking. That's just what we do, really."
The award judges were impressed with health and welfare management and with bio-security. A public footpath runs close to the farm, raising additional considerations for the couple to address. "We've got extra fencing so people can't get in. We always try to make the range look very nice - it looks more like a golf course, really. That's what the public see. It's our vision of how free range should look. We try to keep it nice," said Paul.

He said he was delighted with the award. "We're over the moon, really. It's nice to see that people have recognised us for what we do. It's good; very good."


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