Poultry Farmer of the Year 2014

The Lakes Free Range Egg Company (The Lakes) is celebrating a national award which recognises their innovation and investment in free range egg production. The company won Farmers Weekly Poultry Farmer of the Year Award at a glittering ceremony at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel. Hosted by The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) presenter Sue Perkins, it was an excellent opportunity to showcase free range eggs in the run up to the GBBO final this week.

Collecting the award were David and Helen Brass, owners of the Lakes Free Range Egg Company who were praised for their strong focus on environmental responsibility, clever marketing, innovation in packing and a sense that welfare goes hand in hand with efficiency. They also set ambitious commercial and environmental targets – all of which were met or exceeded.

The judging panel said the company’s track record for growth was impressive, taking egg sales from £500,000 to £10m in its first decade, then more than doubling it again to £25m in the seven years since.

Growth at ‘The Lakes’ has been brought about by developing strong relationships with key customers, including McDonald’s and retailers like Sainsbury’s. “We are keen to work with food retailers who share our ethos for animal welfare and environmentally friendly, sustainable farming,” explained Chief Executive Officer David Brass, “receiving this award is recognition for the whole team, staff at the factory, on our farms and on our producer farms too.”

The Lakes Free Range Egg Company works with numerous small family farm producers who also share the same environmental and animal welfare ethos. Tree planting is seen as especially important, both in terms of bird welfare and carbon capture. Contracted producers are expected to play their part; they must all have their own specific biodiversity action plan, enhancing the ranges on which their hens roam. With this added commitment comes security – producers are offered unique five-year contracts.

“Half our producers are on small, family hill farms on severely disadvantaged land,” says David. “Supporting profitability and creating a living on these farms encourages younger generations to return to farming.”

Independent judge on the panel Jason Gittins, a Poultry Consultant for ADAS said they were impressed because “The Brasses have continued to develop their business with new investment and marketing ideas, while passing on the benefits and savings to their producers.”

Sales at ‘The Lakes’ have also been boosted by the development of key strategic brands including Laid With Love available in Booths and regional Tesco stores. It is underpinned by the company’s total focus on ethical production and environmental responsibility and they also make a donation to Cancer Research for every box of eggs sold.  David explains “We do not want to produce just another free-range egg, but one that says something about who we are.”

The judges recognised there was so much more to the business which has a highly innovative approach. The state-of-the-art packing centre was built to cope with expanding sales and has numerous features to improve efficiency and protect the environment.  The company also has more than 500 solar panels, generating 100kW, while a new biomass boiler uses wood waste and tree thinning’s to produce heat for the factory. It is expected the factory will become carbon neutral this year.

Working in collaboration for better animal welfare, the Lakes Free Range Egg Company is also working closely with Bristol University to develop a new pullet-rearing facility for 20,000 chicks.  Again it is innovative, it uses natural light and utilises a biomass boiler to provide underfloor heating. It uses 90% less energy than conventional rearing sheds.

Summing up David Brass said “Cumbria sets a high standard in food production and we were pleased to be one of three farming producers shortlisted within three miles of Penrith. It goes to prove what a rich seam of food production and livestock husbandry we have in our county.”