An Eggcellent bit of advice
Selling surplus eggs: advice | Keeping incredible hens: advice | Egg-speak: some terms explained | The stamps on eggs | Useful national contacts | Map of local producers | List of local producers with surplus eggs (click a link to access)
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Selling your surplus eggs will not make you rich but will help towards the cost of keeping your hens. If you have less than 50 hens and are selling surplus eggs direct to the public from your own premises then you come under the rules of the Farm Gate Sale of Eggs. This allows unmarked and ungraded eggs to be sold from small flocks because the name and address of the producer is available at the point of sale and so allows traceability of the eggs.
For Farm Gate Sale, eggs must be:
Clean – The eggs should be clean but unwashed. Washing can force bacteria through the shell into the egg. Eggs are usually soiled by the chickens’ dirty feet. Put grit/gravel at the entrance to the house and this will remove dirt and droppings from the feet before they get to the nesting box.
Undamaged – The eggs should not be damaged or cracked. A cracked egg can allow bacteria to contaminate the egg
Ungraded – Your eggs must remain ungraded. This means that a box of eggs will contain different sized eggs.
Fresh – You will need a system to date order your eggs so they are used in succession. The law says that eggs are edible up to four weeks from the date of laying so the “Best Before Date” is given as four weeks from the date of laying. If a Sell by Date is given it will be 3 weeks from laying to allow the customer to keep the eggs in the ‘fridge for a week before eating. Because you will be selling very fresh eggs, probably only a few days old, you can display a sign saying “Best Before Three Weeks from Date of Purchase” and that will keep you legal.
Infertile – don’t allow your laying hens to run with the cockerel.
Be careful about what you claim
Avoid using descriptive terms like ‘organic’ or ‘free range’. These are legal terms and you may need to prove your status legally. If someone asks, offer to show them your hens. They will see that your hens are well cared for have enough space to range and you will have a customer for life.
We support the Five Freedoms (Farm animal welfare council)
1.FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND THIRST –by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour;
2.FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT –by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;
3.FREEDOM FROM PAIN, INJURY OR DISEASE- by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;
4.FREEDOM TO EXPRESS NORMAL BEHAVIOUR – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind
5.FREEDOM FROM FEAR AND DISTRESS – by ensuring conditions and treatment to avoid mental suffering.
Hatching a plan
Hens are lovely animals that will give you a lot of pleasure as well as eggs. However, they must be well looked after and they need a small amount of attention twice a day. In the morning they need to be let out, fed, watered and the droppings removed. In the evening they must be locked in the house to protect from predators. The house and run need regular cleaning and you will need hen sitters for when you go away.
You will also need to consider if your deeds place restrictions on keeping animals and how your neighbours may react.
The hen house needs to be water tight, vermin proof and easy to clean. An average bird will need about one square foot, so a small 4 foot by 3 foot house would hold a maximum of 12 hens. Larger breeds will need more space.
Hens must be cleaned out daily and the droppings are great for the compost heap as they activate decomposition. Fresh droppings are too strong to be put straight onto plants.
4 birds need about 20 square feet or roughly 2 square metres. If allowed in the garden they will eat garden pests but also uproot plants.
Hens need layer pellets/ mash and fresh water each day. A hen can drink a pint of water a day. A small amount of (non-meat/fish) leftovers such as rice or bread in the afternoons will be enjoyed but too much low protein food can reduce egg production. They naturally eat insects and sometimes slugs. Providing oyster shell will help the hens produce sound egg shells.
Number of eggs
This can range from 250 to 300 eggs per bird per year. The variation depends on the breed, the health and the age of the bird. A hen doesn’t need a cockerel to lay eggs. Hens can go broody and stop laying and they don’t lay as frequently in the winter. It’s important to collect eggs at least once a day.
Where can I get chickens from?
You can buy chickens from breeders at various ages from day old chicks to point of lay (16-20 weeks) make sure you buy vaccinated birds. You can also get ex-battery hens from welfare charity organizations; see contact list below.
Dogs and Cats
Pet cats are no problem but feral cats may hunt hens. Most pet dogs will learn to leave them alone when they know the hens are part of the family.
Foxes and other predators
Foxes are very common and can strike during the day. Mink and the neighbour’s dog may also attack so it is best to put the hens into the run if you are leaving them for even the shortest time. Men’s urine, spread around the perimeter of their area can be very effective in keeping foxes at bay.
Rats It is very important to deter rats by keeping poultry food in metal containers with well fitting lids. Avoid leaving food around the run and put the feeders away at night somewhere rats can’t penetrate. The house should be made rat proof and always be alert for evidence of a rat problem.
Hens can get infections from wild birds particularly the uncommon but very serious bird flu. If you can, feed and water your hens under cover and don’t attract wild birds by leaving food around.
FARM FRESH EGGS – this is an empty description which tells you nothing. The poultry could have been farmed in a number of different ways including in battery cages.
CAGED – If the eggs are from caged birds then it has to state that on the box along with ‘Farm Fresh’.
BARN EGGS means that the poultry are farmed in sheds. They have to allow one per square metre for up to 9 birds and the birds have perches and other home comforts. Some BARN EGGS are approved by Freedom Food.
FREE-RANGE the poultry are allowed outside during daylight hours with a up to 2,500 birds per hectare. The poultry run must provide vegetation for the birds and not be a mud bath.
FREEDOM FOOD is the RSPCA’s animal welfare standard and only barn or free-range eggs qualify for this label.
ORGANIC’ eggs production has to conform to EU regulations which bans the use of artificial pesticides, growth promoters, commercial fertilisers, fungicides and herbicides. The poultry are always free-range.
LION MARK on the shell of eggs means that they have come from flocks vaccinated against salmonella there is complete traceability from egg to flock and the egg is marked with a ‘Best Before’ date. The production standards of these eggs is always higher than that required by UK or EU regulations.
Every stamped egg tells you how the hen was raised , the country of origin and the producer. You just need to know how to read an egg, so here is what the egg stamp means.
• Incredible Edible Todmorden – www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk
• Great Britain Poultry Register (DEFRA)– 0800 634112 this free registration is compulsory if you have more than 50 birds. Anyone else can register voluntarily and get up to the minute info about Avian Flu and other poultry matters.
• Battery Hen Welfare Trust – www.bhwt.org.uk- 01769 580310
• DEFRA Laying Hens Code of recommendations for the welfare of livestock www.defra.gov.uk
• DEFRA Biosecurity & preventing disease www.defra.gov.uk
• DEFRA Codes of Recommendations for the welfare of livestock Oct 2001 www.defra.gov.uk
• ADAS Poultry Legislation Factsheet Update March 2006 tel 01522 521290
• RUMA Guidelines Responsible use of vaccines and vaccination in poultry production
• MAFF Code of Practice The handling & storage of eggs from farm to retail sale
• Katie Thear Starting with Chickens 2004 Broad Leys Publishing Ltd ISBN: 0 906 137 27 6
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