What inspired you to have a free range chicken farm in Glenballyeamon?
I was involved in farming from a young age because my family owned some land. When I was 17 I went traveling for a few years and, when I came back, I asked my father if I could rent the farm from him. The old lease had one more year on it so, as a way of farming as I waited, I had 12 hens and 2 sheep on a corner of the farm. This was 25 years ago and now I have 17,000 chickens. And we still have a few sheep too.
The farm is situated in the Glenballyeamon, one of the nine Glens of Antrim; it's an area of outstanding natural beauty in Northern Ireland and we’re really happy to be here.
Who buys your eggs?
We sell the eggs to the retail and food service sector. Local restaurants, hotels, farm shops, and cafes. When we first started we were knocking on doors using word of mouth to get our food out there but, in time, we grew a wide customer base that we’re really proud of.
Have you seen an increase in interest in sustainable food and farming since the pandemic?
I’m not sure. People are definitely more aware of the environment and the consequences of different choices, but there is a lack of deeper understanding. People are taking their knowledge now and starting small, like going to the farm shop and buying a few of their products locally or using reusable products instead of plastic. There's more we need to do but there is a movement here and nothing will happen until there is a change in policy and people have deeper knowledge and more disposable income, to give them the ability to consume in variety and away from convenience or survival.
Why do you think it’s important to follow positive farming practices when producing free range eggs?
We started on a small scale and learnt as we went, my knowledge has grown as the flock has grown. I didn’t purposefully go down a ‘greener’ route but it seemed the most logical for my business. If I had started going for caged hens, I would have had to buy a lot of extra equipment to go against the natural trajectory of the farm.
Chickens are animals and they deserve to be able to go outside. It makes no sense to me to take that away from them. I believe that picking sustainable practices is more consistent with growing a long term business. An example of this is planting the trees, it benefits the wellbeing of the chickens, the soil by capturing nitrogen, and the environment by offsetting carbon dioxide emissions.