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Lakes Free Range, Cumbria

From jump-jets to flightless birds. In the village of Stainton, Dave Brass has made the unusual transition from RAF pilot to one of the UK’s most successful producers of free-range eggs.

During the 1980s, David enjoyed a Royal Air Force career flying Harriers in the UK, Germany and Belize. “A real boy’s toy,” says Dave talking of the famous vertical take-off jet, which requires considerable training to handle. But his flying days were curtailed when, aged 27, he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Not content ‘flying a desk’ Dave, an agriculture graduate, returned to the family farm near Penrith where generations of his family had farmed the land as far back as the 1700s.

But there he faced a conundrum. The farm - some 120 acres - was too small for him and his parents to make a living out of.

“At the time, I suffered from ‘four-legged snobbery’. In other words, I regarded real farming as being beef cattle and sheep and certainly not laying hens. But the space available to me made the prospect of rearing beef and lamb look poor, so there really was very little choice but to reluctantly go ‘two-legged’!”

So around thirty years ago, a shed at the back of the farmyard became his and wife Helen’s first foray into free-range egg production.

Today, their Lakes Free Range Egg Company Ltd boasts 120,000 hens on the home farm, while its packing station is supplied by nearly 50 other farms in Cumbria and beyond. And Lakes Free Range Egg Company’s enterprise is credited with having been a boost to local farmers, who have had to diversify away from more traditional mixed farming practices.

It's no surprise that David now feels differently about venturing into egg production.

“I completely changed my mind about laying hens and egg production. The welfare of my birds has always been the foremost concern for me. One of the great things about laying hens is that the higher the welfare standards, the better their egg production. This is an equation that allows an ethical approach along with good profitability - an excellent match!”

Lakes Free Range is one of the original members of the RSPCA Assured scheme, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. And every egg producer supplying their packing station has to be RSPCA Assured too.

“RSPCA Assured has helped raise standards across the whole of the UK poultry industry - all the other codes of practice, including government legislation, are based on its guidelines.”

Dave supplies eggs to several major supermarkets and most free-range eggs in any McDonald’s north of Birmingham will also likely be from Lakes Free Range.

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