Bird Bros announces “major strategic shift” to improve “hen welfare”

Bird Bros' Sunny Farm, Swineshead, Bedford Borough. Image: Animal Justice Project
Bird Bros' Sunny Farm, Swineshead, Bedford Borough. Image: Animal Justice Project

Bird Bros, an egg ‘mega farm’ in Swineshead, Bedford has announced a multi-million-pound evolution of its business to phase out cage-farming and become a barn egg supplier.

The move marks a major strategic shift for the family-owned business after videos showing “distressing and appalling conditions” at the farm were released by The Animal Justice Project, a prominent animal protection organisation, in August 2023.

After the release of the footage, the business carried out its investigation and implemented an investment programme to make significant changes to animal welfare at the site.

It later had its Red Lion accreditation reinstated due to these changes.

Read: Bedford egg ‘mega farm’ has British Lion accreditation reinstated after welfare enhancements

Now, there are plans for the business to go even further and they are promising to completely phase out colony cage egg production by 2028.

Stuart Bird, Production Director at Bird Bros, said: “There is an increasing number of barn systems operating successfully across the UK and we can see the benefits this model provides.

“The UK egg market is evolving rapidly, and we know that as we look to the future, barn eggs will have a significant role to play. We want to be among those leading the charge in moving away from colony cage egg production.”

Bird Bros has been producing eggs at its Sunny Farm headquarters in Bedfordshire since 1969 and supplies over four million eggs a week to retailers, wholesalers, and food service businesses across the UK.

While the phasing out of cage egg production fully will take five years, it’s believed the first Bird Bros barn eggs set to hit the market towards the end of 2024, and they will continue to supply substantial free-range egg production.

This matches commitments from Tesco, ASDA, Aldi, and Lidl who have all announced plans to end the sale of eggs from caged hens in UK stores by 2025.

Barn eggs

(l-r) Stuart Bird, production director at Bird Bros and Matt Bird, commercial director. Image: Bird Bros
(l-r) Stuart Bird, production director at Bird Bros and Matt Bird, commercial director. Image: Bird Bros

Barn eggs are laid by hens that are housed in large & open, climate-controlled sheds without cages. The hens can roam freely within the shed, socialising, and perching, without the threat of outdoor predators or exposure to the elements.

The model is common across Europe, especially in locations where outdoor conditions and temperatures may be detrimental to hen welfare.

Stocking densities are improved significantly compared with enriched-colony production methods and mirror the levels that free-range birds experience when enclosed at night.

Matt Bird, Commercial Director at Bird Bros, said: “Our Vision 2028 strategy plots a bold new direction for the business which we are all really enthused by.

“Having been a significant player in the egg production industry for more than 55 years, we understand how important it is to remain agile and forward-thinking to thrive as a successful business.

“While many of the major grocers will be ending sales of enriched colony eggs by the end of 2025, our decision to invest significantly in barn egg production has been driven by our desire to improve hen welfare and meet the evolving requirements of our broad customer base.”

While this evolution does match changing attitudes and animal welfare standards, barn egg production has also been criticised for not going far enough.

Global animal welfare organisation, Four Paws, says more needs to be done across the entire egg industry to reduce the number of hens living together and increase daylight and stimulation to encourage activity and natural behaviours to be expressed.

They also back plans within the Agriculture Act 2020 and Defra’s The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024, which sets out a range of schemes to increase biodiversity, restore landscapes and promote animal welfare.

It’s calls for changes like this and changing consumer attitudes that Matthew Bird alludes is a driving force behind their business evolution.

“There will be a market for value-focussed eggs with strong animal welfare credentials, as well as the free-range produced eggs we provide,” he said.

“With our customer base encompassing many different channels, we see a huge opportunity for barn eggs, and it is the key driver behind our decision to move decisively into barn egg production.”

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