In another example of rising costs of living affecting all types of businesses across Jersey, Express takes a closer look at the oldest and largest producer of free-range eggs on the island which is at risk of going out of business if prices continue to rise.
Allan McCaffrey is the owner of Happy Hens, a free-range egg farm based in Grouville.
The farm keeps approximately 8,000 hens that produce 6,000 eggs per day which are all sold locally to supermarkets, farm shops, hotels, and restaurants.
However, Mr McCaffrey has noticed the sales of local eggs rapidly declining recently, which he attributes to a number of different factors.
Mr McCaffrey explained: “There’s a lot of things to deal with at the minute: the cost of living, bird flu, and the Ukraine war.”
Pictured: Happy Hens eggs are all sold locally through supermarkets, smaller shops and farm shops, while restaurants, cafes and hotels buy eggs by the tray.
One of the most notable impacts of the cost-of-living crisis for the egg farming industry is the huge increase in price of chicken feed, which has almost doubled in the last year.
Mr McCaffrey said: “As a local industry we all work together and talk to each other. I’d say last year we would collectively spend around £270,000 on chicken feed, but now the same amount costs £480,000.”
He added: “Every single thing has gone up in cost. It’s not just feed, it’s packaging and labour too.”
Whilst the most obvious answer would be to increase egg prices in order to cover costs, Mr McCaffrey explained that this is not economically viable as it simply drives customers away.
Happy Hens increased their prices by 22p per dozen eggs last quarter and noticed that their egg sales declined even after this small increase.
Mr McCaffrey said: “We can’t compete with UK or supermarket prices and, due to the cost of living, consumers are consistently picking the cheaper options.”
He admitted: “Even I do the same when I’m shopping!”
Happy Hens is a free-range egg farm, which means that hens are kept in mobile houses, which allow them access to the surrounding fields, so they can come and go as they please.
The free-range system improves animal welfare and produces better quality eggs than the more intensive factory farming systems used across the UK. However, free-range farming is much more labour intensive and therefore more costly.
The Happy Hens eggs are usually delivered to local shops within 24 hours of laying, whereas most eggs from the UK will be about 10 days old before they are for sale in Jersey albeit at a lower cost.
Mr McCaffrey said: “We are delivering the best product we can at the best price possible, but unfortunately that’s not enough to compete.
“We are not making any money at the moment. In fact, we’re barely covering costs.”
The farming industry are currently in the final stages of working with the Government to secure support, and Mr McCaffrey hopes that this will be in place before the end of the month “at least to give us some clarity”.
He said: “We don’t know what’s happening in the next quarter.”
Pictured: As Jersey has no predators such as foxes to threaten poultry, the free-range hens don’t even have to be shut in at night like in the UK.
Christmas is the industry’s “biggest time of year”, but the impact of bird flu has already impacted this.
Happy Hens were meant to be receiving a new flock of birds from the UK to match the Christmas demand, but they now cannot be delivered to the island due to bird flu.
This means that the current batch of hens will have to extend their stock for a longer period of time but will therefore be producing less eggs each week.
Mr McCaffrey says that this means Happy Hens will be operating at around 50% of their usual Christmastime production.
He added: “We pride ourselves on being free range, but bird flu also means that we have to keep all of our hens inside which we don’t really have the facilities for. It impacts their egg production too.”
The egg farmer described the current economic climate as a “worrying time for us as an industry”, adding that it is “stressful for our families as well”.
Mr McCaffrey explained: “It’s not like other jobs where you can decide you don’t like it and quit. We have to continue as we’re producing a live food product for our customers.”
The States Assembly were set to debate different types of financial support to help islanders with the rising cost of living in its mini budget this week, however this has been pushed back in the wake of Her Majesty’s death.
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