At the beginning of July, we took a trip through the Oxfordshire countryside to meet our friends, Neal’s Yard Dairy at Cackleberry Farm to find out what makes these eggs so good…
We are very proud of all the products that we select and sell. This doesn’t stop at the cheese. If you haven’t tried our eggs before, you must. They are Arlington White Cacklebean eggs from Cackleberry Farm in the Cotswolds. They have bright, white shells and large, fantastically orange yolks. At the beginning of July, we took a trip through the Oxfordshire countryside to meet our friends, Neal’s Yard Dairy at Cackleberry Farm to find out what makes these eggs so good…
Patrick and his wife Steph set up Cackleberry Farm around 5 years ago on 12 acres of land just outside Stow-on-the-Wold. (The word ‘Cackleberry is 1950’s slang for ‘egg’. Cacklebean then coming from the shape of the eggs themselves) They now have around 6,500 chickens that are free range in the truest sense of the word. On our trip we were stepping over hens at every turn. The well-behaved birds return to their chicken houses at night time, around 900 to a hut. This is a stark contrast to the thousands of birds commonly crammed in to a house of this size. Patrick has even helped design the huts themselves to be mobile, ensuring that they are moved every year to keep the land arable.
Cackleberry Farm is unique for many reasons, but one of the most incredible is that they essentially embody the entire poultry industry on one farm. They do it all, from breeding, to hatching, to rearing, to laying, to packaging. Having control over every step of the process, from animal welfare to the land that the chickens strut around on, means they can design the best scenario to create the perfect egg. One thing that Patrick believes to be most integral to this is creating a stress-free environment for the chickens.
He must be doing something right – his birds are not ‘tipped’ (a process used universally and almost unanimously in poultry farming, where the tip of the hens beaks are clipped to blunt them and prevent them from pecking at each other). This means that not only are they able to peck around in the ground as they naturally would, it shows just how content the birds are in their homes.
Newly hatched chicks are kept indoors for the first 12 weeks or so, fed on a diet heavy in maize which goes some way towards that beautiful orange yolk. On the tour, we visited one of these huts. The startlingly white hens inside were calm and curious – they have low lighting and Patrick even said he puts the radio on for them to get them accustomed to sounds and voices from early on. This means they aren’t startled or stressed once moved outside. We also met some of the farms boisterous Cockerels. At Cackleberry, Cockerels are not culled at birth, as is common in poultry farming. Instead they live in their own enclosure, some then forming part of their breeding flock.
It’s no coincidence that Cacklebean eggs are the best we’ve ever found. Patrick and Steph make it look so simple (of course happy hens make great eggs!), but the amount of time, care and hard work that goes in to this farm is quite astounding. What an inspiring trip.