When I began writing for The Blackmore Vale, I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t talk about chickens every month – I have enough abuse from my friends if I dare mention my passion for the two-legged critters. This month’s issue, I was planning to use as therapy and share with you all the tale with the alpaca that still keeps me up at night in cold sweats. Fortunately, there is a more pressing matter.
I feel as though I need to use my voice on this digital platform to begin to make a change and to save myself from having to march down the streets of Shaftesbury handing out flyers calling for equality!
“Inequality in the egg industry?” I hear you ask. Unbelievably – yes – it’s true.
Within our shed we have a mix of both brown and white birds, which both lay eggs in their respective colours. Other than the colour of the shell, the two are identical. However, when it comes to selling on the farm gate, the pristine white eggs are shunned for their brown counterpart, even when sold 80 pence cheaper per dozen.
Thankfully this hasn’t always been the case. The golden age for our white feathered friends was during the Second World War and the following few decades. Unfortunately, during the 70s, public perception began to change and people started to believe that brown eggs were healthier as they resembled brown bread rather than white processed loaves. Today, only 0.5% of the market is made up of white eggs.
It may seem trivial to complain about people’s preference on the colour of their egg, but in a few years brown eggs may be rarer than hen’s teeth on the supermarket shelves if the UK government bans the process of ‘beak trimming’.
Currently, most chicks at a day old will have the sharp tip of their beaks trimmed by an infra-red beam to protect one another from pecking and other aggressive behaviours. ‘Debeaking’, as it is also known, is a controversial topic for many and is accompanied by the constant talk of prohibiting the practice.
The supermarket shelves with a ban introduced may look a lot different; firstly, the price per dozen of your eggs will go up as farmers look to house fewer birds in their sheds to protect them from each other; secondly, the brown birds may be ostracised for white breeds as they are more docile toward one another.
It seems that the brown bird and all its many colours on their plumage cause offence for one another and can lead to aggressive tendencies, whereas the white hens are calmer and behave more passively.
Personally, I would continue to trim the beaks of the birds till the public are willing to buy white again, as the damage that a full beak can do to one another is worrying, as birds will always display their natural behaviours and look to create a pecking order (pun slightly intended).
If the poultry industry looks how I expect it will do in ten years, then I suggest you start getting used to the white eggs. If you pass our farm on your travels I suggest you pick up some of both our eggs to sample and complete your own taste tests at home. Have an omelette in the name of science and see if you can notice a difference.
I, on the other hand, am going to head out into the Spring fields and canvass our Aberdeen Angus cows and calves for next months edition so I hopefully don’t have to talk about Pepper the alpaca!
By: Andrew Livingston