An increasing number of people are starting to keep chickens or ducks in their back gardens and ‘backyard hen keeping’ is fast becoming one of the most popular gardening ‘hobbies’ not only in this country but around the globe.
Aside from the campaigns to improve chicken welfare beyond that of a cheap egg laying machine, people are now seeing them as more just a source of food. They are filled with character, make a great addition to the productive garden and can fill both the boots of accessible livestock and those of household pet. The more people I meet and speak to the more I’m starting to feel that the poultry concept of ‘dual purpose’ is being challenged and in some folks eyes this no longer means ‘table & laying qualities’ but more ‘productive & pet’.
Let’s face it, how many pets can you name that are happy and content when interacting with humans who are also capable of converting food and unwanted green waste into a nutritional parcel of food every day…. and the waste they produce provides a perfect medium for growing more food!
That said, keeping chickens can be like growing courgettes; they are not difficult to grow and care for but, for the over eager gardener, what seemed like a measly 4 or 5 plants when you started will be producing more courgettes than you can casserole, and in a glut. Hens essentially are not that different…. think about it for a moment before you dismiss it.
Six regular hens will produce around 200 eggs a year (and that’s an under-estimate for some breeds). Like courgettes, this production won’t be spread out throughout the year either as hens will take a break from laying for around 2 months a year, so that’s 1200 eggs in 10 months or in more simple terms around 30 eggs a week. Ok, an egg each a day for the average family of 5 will mean that’s manageable but for most families it will result in a surplus, so what can you do with all those extra eggs?
It is possible to preserve eggs for those ‘egg free’ periods by pickling, freezing for example but the benefit of an egg is in its freshness so why not sell them? It’s not a get rich quick scheme but it’s certainly a way of helping fund the upkeep of the hens. Remarkably as it may sound the small expenditure you make in buying your hens could actually make a return albeit a small one, but then pennies make pounds as the saying goes. So what’s the law on selling eggs? It’s rather complex if you produce on a commercial-scale, and rightly so, but for the home producer you will be classified as “Farm Gate Sales” even if you don’t live on a farm.
Selling eggs in this way excludes you from the commercial regulations but there are some restrictions you need to be aware of.
- …grade the size of your eggs. You can box them up according to size e.g. large fowl or bantam but you should not state they are large, medium or small, these are commercial terms that require the egg to fit with a regulatory size.
- …try to sell the eggs as “Free Range” or “Organic” despite the fact you might free range, or feed and garden organically. These terms are industry standards and you must comply with them in order to sell your eggs as such. Instead use your imagination should you need to promote your eggs, “Garden Grown, Friendly & Free To Roam” would be a handy side step.
Terms such as Free Range or Organic are industry standards, choose your words carefully!
- …make sure the eggs are clean but not washed. Washing removes the eggs protective ‘bloom’ can expose it to the risk of bacterial infection. Keep any dirty eggs for yourself. Also check they are not cracked, common sense really, even checkout staff open boxes to check in some shops.
- …give some thought to how you market them. It’s surprising how many people prefer to buy their produce “Off Gate” where freshness can be counted in days not weeks, and food miles on fingers and not a calculator.
- …make sure you research prices locally. Selling direct (and not driven by profit) means it’s easy to undercut the supermarket prices with all their overheads but do take into consideration the cost of production, e.g. feed. Try to price them so the income makes a contribution to the cost of keeping the hens, they will still be an attractive alternative to retailers.
- …tell your customer a best before date. Eggs will last for up to 4 weeks from the date of laying if stored correctly so make sure you have some system to date order your produce and ensure your customers know the ‘best before’ when they buy . Its likely cases you be selling eggs that are only a few days old and that puts then well ahead on freshness versus shop eggs.
- Most of all DO keep a record of what your matronly madams are bringing in, OK it won’t pay for Christmas or a holiday but it will put them close to being a self-funding supply of food, and that can’t be sniffed at.