They may not be walking around wearing white towelling monogrammed bathrobes ready to strip down for a relaxing hot stone massage or taking a dip in the hot tub, but the hens that have recently moved in to Ben and Emma Mosey’s purpose-built hen shed at Minskip near Boroughbridge, although they will never know it, have found the perfect home.
“It’s like a hen spa,” says Ben. “They’re our first full batch of 6,000 we’ve had since coming here in January when we bought Minskip Farm Shop and the 16 acres that go with it.
“Pauline and David Barker had been here for many years and had built up the shop, the growing of vegetables and the egg business. The conditions for the hens goes over and beyond all basic requirements and has been designed with best practice in mind. Consequently, we incur very few problems in the shed and both egg production and quality is amazing.
“Our previous batch went through to 76 weeks and were still producing eggs at the rate other producers would probably have been happy with when at peak production.
“We’ve been producing 5,800 eggs a day.
“They are all a Rhode Island Red hybrid and we purchase them from Blue Barns in Northumberland. They arrive here as 16-week old pullets and we’ve just had our first pullets eggs. They are smaller than when they mature as hens in a few weeks and make great poaching eggs either as they are now or when larger because of how fresh they are for our customers.
“Sometimes they are still warm from being laid when they are in the shop. The poaching prowess comes from the quality of the yolk and that is enhanced through enrichment from the vegetation they consume. Our hens go wild for some of the by-products we feed including onion skins and brassicas. We sell between 500-1,000 eggs a day in the shop. They also have a paddock area of nearly 15 acres which I rotate for them.
“At the moment I’m spending a lot of time with the new interns as their early days establish egg placement. Hens are characters and they like routine. Once they’ve made their decision they will lay an egg in the same place at roughly the same time every day.
“They all have their own time slots worked out between themselves largely from 7am to 11am.
“We feed them four different rations starting with a pre-lay when they arrive and ending with a sustaining ration with the protein needed to keep up shell quality. It’s usually 80 per cent wheat with soya.”
These are exciting times for the young couple who have swapped the career wanderlust of Ben’s exploration geologist environment that saw him working in the outback in Australia and the jungle of Indonesia; and, perhaps only temporarily, Emma’s outstanding writing as author of two best-selling novels under her maiden name Emma Chapman (her first How To Be a Good Wife, a psychological tale sold over 100,000 copies).
They are now creating their own story and have ambitious plans for Minskip Farm Shop with the hens perched well and truly to the fore.
“Farms are always home to amazing events and when people visit and see the spectrum of what happens it can blow their minds. We feel there is potential for us to produce a farm experience that has never been seen before.
“We came back to the UK with the mindset of running a business that encompassed farming and food. Our more ambitious plans will take us a few years yet but they are on their way.”
In the meantime, Ben and Emma have been quick to pick up award nominations.
Attention to detail has been a major factor from the as yet small but important changes they have made visually to the farm shop and the systems and protocols they have put in place.
They won the new business award in the Deliciously Yorkshire awards announced in Country Week last Saturday and were nominees in the small farm shop category in our own farm awards last month.
“When we first looked around here in May last year we were extremely excited,” says Emma.
“Pauline and David had erected the new farm shop building four years ago having run it alongside the farmhouse for many years, and their egg and vegetable growing business was well supported by local people as well as wholesalers Chippendale Foods at Flaxby.
“We’re hopefully carrying on their good work. Customers come for eggs, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, red chard, beans, beetroot and more.
“We’ve kept the core of the business and we’re attempting to add to it with our star table that greets you with a colourful, fresh welcome as you come through the doors. We’re passionate that although it is only a small business we should run it with a company-oriented discipline that encourages everyone in the team.
“That’s where our award nominations have in part come from, as well as our hens having great lives and the quality produce.
“Our team includes eight with Katy Wilcock our only full-time team member other than us. What we’ve done is to prepare and implement a full system of employee appraisals. This way everyone knows what is expected, what their role is and understands our mission and vision.
“We have some great ideas for Christmas with orders already in for trees, wreaths, hampers and turkey and veg boxes. We stock Edward Wilkinson’s wonderful Herb Fed Poultry, which is in great demand.
“Hartleys of Tholthorpe supply most of our meat with pork coming from the Hullahs at Tancred Farm. We are also looking at attracting more customers in the young family demograph and with that in mind we’ve just taken on the looking after of Rupert and Thomas, two donkeys from Heehaw Donkeys in Wetwang, for the winter; we have three Kune Kune pigs and our Christmas Gift Grotto opens today.”