When Matthew Green of Skylark Farm in Everingham, East Yorkshire, took on the tenancy of Manor House Farm on the Warter Estate in the mid-90s he fulfilled a life ambition. He and his wife Sarah and their young family seemed well set on a course that many had followed before.
Matthew built his sheep flock up to number over 1,000 breeding ewes and they had cattle too. Today it’s all about hens, eggs and pullet rearing.
“I loved my sheep and cattle and at one time I’d never have thought of doing anything else but what I do now certainly interests me more. I enjoyed sheep farming but dealing with people every day beats that.”
Matthew runs the Wot-an-Egg company with his business partner and fellow farmer-businessman Jim Bloom. They started the enterprise ten years ago. At any one time he has 120,000 laying free range hens across three farms in East Yorkshire with two in Everingham and another at Watton near Nafferton. Production is generally in the region of 100,000 eggs per day. That in itself sounds reasonably large but is nothing in comparison to his pullet rearing business that now sees his company as one of the largest in the UK.
“In 2008 we found ourselves with some really bad pullets so we decided to make the move into pullet rearing where we could control the quality. We buy day-old chicks from the largest hatchery in the UK plus one or two other leading companies and supply to between 40-50 farmer customers from as far afield as Edinburgh to Devon via our numerous sites in Yorkshire and Hertfordshire. We now do two million pullets a year.”
The eggs produced by Matthew’s hens are destined not just for human consumption but also to assist in human well-being.
“One-third of our eggs from our 120,000 hens go to Chippendale Foods in Harrogate who sell to supermarkets. They are a fabulous company who strongly believe as I do that it is all about producing quality.
“Two-thirds of our production goes as fertile eggs into Novartis in Liverpool who grow flu jabs in the eggs by injecting the seed of the vaccine through the shell where it grows in the protein rich environment provided by the yolk. The top of the eggs is removed mechanically after the incubation process is complete and the vaccine is then sucked out.”
Greater length of production from the birds is something the industry is always working on and there is a new breed at one of Matthew’s farms presently called the H&N that is looking to crack the market.
“Traditionally hens will come into laying at around 18-20 weeks and will lay until 72 weeks before they are regarded as being at the end of their laying life. The industry is attempting to breed a bird that will lay consistently well up to 80 weeks and the H&N is meant to go through to 78 weeks. The big advantage with this breed though is not just its longevity but also its shell quality.
“Often when a hen approaches the end of its laying life it might be giving plenty of eggs but its shell quality leads to a lot of soft shells that can break in the packing machine. The H&N has been scientifically proven to provide both longevity and shell quality.”
One area where Matthew feels the Wot-an-Egg company has contributed greatly to the health and well-being of his hens is in what he provides for them within the buildings.
“Our facilities are to my mind the best in the country. We provide more furniture than anyone else I have seen including winchable tables and platforms that teach the bird to jump into the system to find food and water, as well as providing them with additional activities. Multi-tiered platforms make sure that your birds have a much happier environment.”
While Matthew’s role today is quite different to how he started out as a tenant on Warter Estate he revels in it.
“I explained to one of my sons Isaac who is interested in farming that keeping sheep and cattle is a lifestyle whereas this is very much a business. We have 54 employees on 13 sites whether that’s producing eggs or rearing pullets and a great deal of my time is spent on strategy or meeting customers. I’m very happy with what I’m doing now and I see myself as being in a privileged position to be able to do it. Maybe in a year or two I’d like to have a few sheep again but only to look at and enjoy.”
Matthew is originally from Appleton Roebuck, is married to Sarah and they have three children – Joe, 23, Isaac, 21, who also works in the poultry industry and Holly, 16.