Natalie and Lois, two of the Real Food Store’s managers, have been travelling around Devon over the last few months to visit as many of The Real Food store’s producers as possible. This time we took Olivia, a GCSE work experience student, along with us to show her the aspects of organic farming. Olivia was a huge help in writing this blog post – thank you very much Olivia! At the Real Food Store, we are proud to support local farmers and producers across the South West and through these posts are hoping to introduce our customers to the faces behind the names.
Laydilay is run by Andy and Mandy Johnson, with the assistance of their two children and 4 other employees split between the farm itself and their kitchen. They supply us with a range of “cracking” products, including organic eggs, as well as mayonnaise, macaroons and meringues. We first headed to their production kitchen in a beautiful old steamhouse building in Buckfastleigh. The kitchen is the domain of Mandy, whereas Andy is mostly based on the farm on the outskirts of Dartmoor national park. The business was started in 2004, while Andy was working at Riverford organics and noticed a demand for local, organic, eggs. At the time, Mandy was training to be a teacher but, very bravely (and with Andy’s support), decided to switch career path and start to keep a small flock of 70 hens on some rented land near to where they lived. Andy later joined Mandy in running the business and took over the main farm duties (they now have between 2000 and 2500 hens at any one time!), whilst Mandy (a trained microbiologist) concentrates on the egg processing, as well as the paperwork, compliance and certification side of things.
They started making meringues in 2007 as a way to use up cracked eggs that couldn’t be sold, and then also began mayonnaise production in 2009 following a request from Riverford. Mandy introduced us to John who works with her in the kitchen, and who makes and packages all the products by hand. On a typical day, John will make approximately 200 jars of mayo- Mandy claimed that he was quicker than any machine and after watching him at work we had to agree with her! As the final product is not pasteurized (although the eggs are) they have to take special care to make sure that the mayonnaise is completely clean before going into the jars. Mandy also told us about one of their newer products – frozen liquid egg which is sold to kitchens and bakeries with limited storage space. This new venture has proven popular, but can be quite laborious- they can crack up to 80kg of eggs a day all by hand!
After meeting Mandy & John in the kitchen, we drove to the farm to meet Andy. The 5 acre farm is based on the edge of Dartmoor, with beautiful views of Haytor in one direction, and as it was such a lovely day, we could even see the sea towards Teignmouth in the other direction! Andy told us a little about the history of the farm- the land was already converted to organic when they took over, and they have been in their current location for 15 years. There were 5 flocks of hens on the farm when we visited, with 300-500 hens per flock (free range standards allow 50% more hens in the same amount of space).
We timed our visit brilliantly as Andy had just received some chicks, which were only 6 days old! Laydilay rear chicks from 1 day old. They start laying at around 5 months, and will lay productively until around 18 months, when they do their best to re-home them. Andy told us that they have recently teamed up with the British Hen Welfare Trust who re-home laying hens. There were two flocks of chicks for us to visit, and we could easily have popped one in our pocket to take home they were so small and adorable. Andy told us that he has to be very careful and delicate when changing their water/ food, and when making any changes to their homes as up until around 10 weeks they are very sensitive, and that there is a risk of smothering if they are nervous and dive under the huddle at night. The chicks we visited were preparing to go outdoors the next day, which is a gradual process. They will first be left with the door open to a protected pen, with net covering to protect from predatory birds, before being moved eventually into a larger shed with full access to the outdoors.
The hens are housed in mobile houses that can be moved to fresh ground during their laying life. Organic standards rule that the hens should go outside at 8 weeks, but Andy explained that he tries to get his outside much earlier as he believes that doing so will result in a happier, healthier, bird. They are kept in at night to protect them from predators but are out and about all day, scratching up the ground and doing what chickens do! Whilst there are no trees in the fields, Andy has dotted around some additional shelters for the chickens, so that they can be protected from the rain or sun without having to go back inside their shed during the day.
They currently have two breeds; Nova Gen Brown, and Leghorns, which produce white eggs. They get around 2000 eggs per day, all different sizes including large, medium and small. All of the eggs have to be stamped with their producer number, country of origin and a number that indicates whether it is organic free range, free range, and barn or caged. Their number is 0UK17342. This is good as 0 is organic free range, which shows that they’re definitely organic. All of the eggs are weight graded over a small grading machine that separates out egg sizes according to weight- a very clever piece of kit!
Feeding the chickens is obviously a vital component to producing an amazing egg. To our dismay, Andy explained how many egg producers tend to reduce protein levels in the chicken food towards the end of the hen’s laying life. In contrast Laydilay keep the same level of protein in the diet throughout the hen’s whole life. Whilst this is less economic, Andy and Mandy feel this is an important part of animal welfare and their duty of care towards the hens. Simply because the money that is being made from the chickens egg has come to a halt (end of laying life), it doesn’t mean that they should be fed any less (if anything that could put them in poorer health).
Other than the vital chickens, the farm also has horses, 46 sheep and a ram. There are also two Alpacas which are there (in theory) to scare away any foxes looking to eat any of the beloved hens! Antonio the alpaca seemed to be a lot fonder of us than the other; he seemed very happy yet cautious to approach us. Ironically Natalie was wearing her alpaca t-shirt and they were definitely eyeing her up! We beat a hasty retreat though when Andy asked Antonio if he was preparing to spit (in hindsight I think he was joking but we didn’t fancy being coated in Alpaca saliva, no matter how cute they are!).
At the end of the day we were all full of information and absolutely worn out! However it was such a good day and we managed to learn a lot of information about where our stock comes from and how it is produced. This is the tenth visit yet, what farm will be next?
For more information visit www.laydilay.co.uk.