The Penrith Rural Women’s Network group flocked to The Lakes Free Range Egg Company to hear how Helen Brass started a free-range egg business with just 200 hens. It was the largest meeting attendance in the last twelve months.

When David and Helen Brass returned to the small 90-acre family farm after a career in the RAF, they needed to find a way to diversify. The farm could not sustain two families, so Helen bought 200 hens and started free-range production.

Members listened to how Helen juggled working at the local hospital with looking after her hens, growing from 200 hens to a shed with 1,500 hens in her first year.  Tight budgets meant David did the building work himself and by their fourth year they had three sheds and 9,000 hens.

Helen said “I was still working at the hospital and juggled an egg round in Keswick and Penrith, but by the third shed we needed to employ part time staff.  Life became a real juggle when our first set of twins were born in 1995!

“By 1996 we had been supplying three packing stations, so we decided to build our own stone clad packing station in Stainton which opened 1st April 1997 with five staff supporting us.”

At that time, Edwina Curry created a stir in the egg industry which created a focus on locally supplied eggs from healthy free-range hens. This was a boost to The Lakes business who had the opportunity to present to Wm. Morrison’s who quickly became a customer.

In 2001, David and Helen had their second set of twins. Two years later, in 2002, The Lakes began supplying McDonald’s with free-range eggs and since then, they attracted customers including Sainsbury’s, Booths and Tesco.

Helen said “Morrison’s were our main customer for over 15 years, but we have since expanded and now have 120,000 hens in 18 sheds of our own and we work with local family farm producers across the North of England and Scotland. Today, there are over 1 million free-range hens producing eggs that are packed in our newest state-of-the-art packing, carbon neutral packing facilities that opened in 2011.”

Chair of the Network Group Tracey Errington said “We had a tremendous turnout for this meeting because we’re all aware of the scale of the business today and were keen to learn how it all began. Our members found it inspiring to hear how Helen and 200 hens have developed into a fantastic family business that works with other farming families too. Helen and David have exacting standards – we recognised this when Helen talked about their first grading machine. What they see as their norm, is what makes them so successful and we all really appreciated the birds eye view of the business.”

Throughout Helen’s presentation, members of the network group asked questions which stimulated great discussion about work life balance, maintaining exactingly high standards and how the company management has evolved. Vote of thanks was given by Sally Seed from Stoneleigh Communications who presented Helen with an egg – a large chocolate Easter egg – to say thanks.

women in business