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Egg-citing times for siblings

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 16, 2014

FREE RANGE: Egg producers Lou and Phil Ayre.

FREE RANGE: Egg producers Lou and Phil Ayre.

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THE end of 2013 saw an increased growth in poultry and egg production as world demand for protein continued to expand.

Several North Devon farmers have helped put the area well up the league table for quality eggs, including a local farming family, managed by brother and sister team, Phil and Lou Ayre at Black Dog, near Witheridge.

And they celebrated a place in the top three of a nationwide competition for quality by the British Free Range Egg Producers Association.

"We were much buoyed by that third place," said Phil.

"Egg farmers from around the country all enter and to get a 3rd prize out of some 50 + entries was very pleasing."

Phil's career in eggs and poultry has its origins on the family's Cobscombe Farm, even though their parents were in dairy in those days.

He said: "I was given a tabletop polystyrene incubator when I was a boy, I hatched a wide variety of birds – rare breeds, pheasants and ducks. I've had an affinity with poultry ever since," he said.

That experience helped give him the confidence to completely switch direction when he joined his parents after having spent time working in New Zealand with cattle.

When he returned in 1996 he decided that he no longer wanted to milk.

"I know dairy has picked up remarkably well in comparison but back then I felt it was a good time to change. So we sold the milk quotas funding us to go free range right from the start.

"At the time the national free range flock was only 6%, and the rest were in cages. Now its more like 55% enriched cages and 45% free range.

"The amount of hens around is phenomenal compared to when we started. There seems to be chickens in most areas, particularly on the broiler side."

It's not just as simple as a hen laying an egg, Phil added, it's about keeping the hens healthy and happy so that they produce the right amount of eggs 365 days a year.

"As with anything, its challenging with the recent cereal price volatility," he said.

"We've had problems along the way but I've learnt a lot."

Lou trained as a veterinary nurse and had been with the local farm animal practice for the past 17years until last July when she decided to join her family in the egg business.

She's the face the customers see, managing the daily egg rounds throughout Devon, supplying food outlets such as butchers, village shops, cafés, garden centres, care homes, restaurants and hotels.

"People are now appreciating how eggs have outstanding nutritional value and versatility, adding great value for money.

"Happy chicken lay tasty eggs," added Phil.

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