A farm on the edge of the Lake District which diversified
into free range eggs 19 years ago now has the largest specialist
egg packaging business in the country, supplying major supermarkets
|David Brass and
his free range chickens
In 1988, ex-RAF pilot David Brass thought prospects
for the family’s traditional beef and sheep farm Meg
Bank, Stainton, near Penrith, were limited, even when inputs
were monitored closely and careful consideration was given
to targeting seasonal markets.
He and his wife Helen started their free range egg production
business - both prizing animal welfare and looking at the
business opportunities - building up from 200 to 9,000 birds
over a five year period.
Now, with agriculture embracing welfare friendly practices,
demand for free-range eggs has grown from 11 per cent of the
market to today’s share of around 40 per cent.
The business achieved national recognition when it scooped
one of nine awards at the NFU endorsed National Farming Awards
with the couple being presented with the best business in
the food chain award.
Ten years after the start of egg production the beef herd
and sheep flock were sold in what was an easy decision to
concentrate on the increasing bird flock. Now the farm’s
100 acres are rented out.
doubt free range egg production is profitable”
Initially the Lakes Free Range Egg Company supplied local
shops, then a local packing station.
When the packing station closed David and Helen seized the
opportunity and invested in their own state of the art unit
at Meg Bank with a capacity that dealt with the volume required
to supply large retailers.
“It was a risky decision, but one that secured the
future of our business. Today, McDonalds is one of our main
buyers and purchases 25 per cent of our eggs – half
a million a week. The majority of the rest goes to half a
dozen of the top 10 retailers,” said David Brass.
“With the need to supply much larger quantities, we
enlisted the help of other farms in the area. Our community
had been badly hit by BSE and foot and mouth and many local
farmers were struggling. Some changed their farm to focus
entirely on poultry – others just used poultry as a
proportion of their business,” he added.
As the business grew, David Brass was becoming stretched
to his limits and opportunity once again gave it a further
A large egg packer closed down and the decision was made
to put a management team in place with David as the managing
director, employing the other company’s sales director
who brought with him a wealth of professional industry expertise
and marketing knowledge.
This in turn led to interest from large retailers and resulted
in a total investment of around £1 million in the new
packing station building and equipment includes warehousing,
grading and processing areas and offices which now employs
50 people from the area.
“We began to strongly market what we believed consumers
wanted – an animal welfare, environmentally friendly
quality product. We guarantee the provenance of our eggs,” said
Backing this is that eggs are sold under the Lion Code of
the British Egg Industry Council and the RSPCA’s Freedom
From an initial consistent base of 11 egg suppliers, now
the packing station is supplied by 35 producers across the
north of England, but mainly within a 30 mile radius of Stainton.
Between 10 and 15 per cent of production is kept in house
to give flexibility for peaks and troughs of demand. There
are an average 40,000 birds at Meg Bank.
While there is now a waiting list of potential suppliers,
the Lakes Free Range Egg Company has given support to its
egg producers, sharing business plans to help farmers secure
“Without a doubt free range egg production is profitable.
You are looking at a £4 a bird margin after depreciation
but not including any labour and rent for free range eggs
- and it’s an expanding market,” said David Brass.
“However, the investment is not small so that is why
we offer business help. On a Greenfield site you are looking
at a cost of £15 to £17 a bird to set up production
plus £2.50 to purchase each bird.
“A realistic number of birds for a farming couple to
run without extra labour is between 10,000 and 12,000 although
we have one supplier who runs 16,000 birds without employing
“We have other producers with just 5,000 birds. The
business provides a good cash flow, unlike other livestock
Training on flock management, disease control and welfare
is also given as well as industry updates to help producers
avoid some of the pitfalls the Brass family encountered in
the business’s formative years.
© Copyright 2006 Jennifer
MacKenzie All Rights
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