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From Wilton Gate House Farm, nestled in the rolling fields bordering the North York Moors National Park, Andrew Hall looks back on a varied life of farming. This year, Andrew Hall is celebrating ten years of rearing laying hens to RSPCA Assured higher welfare standards.
“I started farming in 1980 when I was a teenager,” says Andrew. “My father bought one pig as a hobby, and then gradually expanded his herd. My grandparents also ran a dairy farm and I spent much of my childhood there.”
So in 2000, with twenty years of livestock and arable farming experience under his belt, along with five years studying an agriculture and business degree, Andrew was ready to invest in Wilton Gate House Farm.
While continuing to farm the 160 acres of rented land for arable, cattle and sheep, Andrew decided to develop his 20 acres in a new direction. He developed the farm paddock area into a small caravan site, alongside a 6,000-bird free-range shed.
Andrew’s favoured breed of laying hens is the Bovan Brown which produces high egg yields.
“I enjoy a challenge,” says Andrew. “Farming teaches you a lot, quickly. But I can honestly say that I never appreciated just how much was involved in producing quality eggs.”
“Being part of the Eggsell co-operative supplying only RSPCA Assured free-range eggs,
I’ve always had the hens’ welfare at the heart of the business, and I firmly believe that how you look after your flock impacts on the quality of the eggs produced. While the economics of farming remain a constant challenge, the RSPCA guidelines to produce eggs from a higher welfare flock remain consistent and that’s reassuring – both for me as a farmer and for customers who increasingly demand better conditions for farm animals.”
In fact, the hens invite more than a passing interest from holidaymakers at the caravan park, particularly children, who are fascinated to see where free-range eggs actually come from.
“I enjoy working with all livestock but I was taken aback by what characters laying hens can be. In any flock, I can identify particular birds because of unusual behaviour”.
One notable hen, who his stepdaughter unaccountably called ‘Philip’, would jump over the fence every day and visit the caravan site. And whilst the rest of the flock were safely in their housing for the night, ‘Philip’ could occasionally be found sleeping with the family’s goat and pony.
“I’m proud of the way we farm here and also proud to be a part of RSPCA Assured, which is also celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year.”