Updates from the farm…

When we deliver to your home, we send an email update from the farm. Here are some recent updates…

7th February 2023 Farm update – I thought it maybe interesting to share the journey of how our eggs reach your door – I’ve always been tempted to do a video of this…. 95%+ of our hens lay their eggs in their nest boxes which we keep clean so that the eggs don’t pick up any dirt. The nest boxes have a slight tilt and the eggs slowly roll under a small flap at the back of the nest box and onto a conveyor belt. Once a day (including Christmas day) we run the egg conveyor belts bringing the eggs to an egg room located at the end of the hen house and we pick up each egg by hand and put it onto plastic trays. All the big farms automate egg collecting but our hen houses and egg rooms are too small to fit their equipment and therefore whilst we are picking up each egg, we do our first check to remove feathers, cracked eggs, dirty eggs or XXL eggs which can easily get cracked in our grading machine. We stack the eggs on a pallet and use the tractor to transport the eggs from the hen houses in the fields to our egg packing centre. We grade our eggs 2 – 3 days per week as this requires 5 hard working people to operate our egg grading machine. The eggs are loaded on at one end, each egg passes over bright lights (candling booth) where we pick out any remaining dirty, cracked or wonky eggs and then each egg is stamped with our egg producer number, best before date, Mayfield eggs and the flock number. Our grading machine then weighs every egg which determines its size. A medium egg is 53g – 63g and a large egg is 63g – 73g. The machine will then decide where to send the egg so that all medium eggs are packed into beige trays and all large eggs are packed on blue trays. We then do a final 3rd inspection of the eggs and pack the trays into the White Mayfield boxes ready to load onto our delivery van within 1 -2 days and deliver to you.

Packaging – A few people have recently asked about whether we can reuse the trays, egg boxes and white boxes – please do put out any packaging we deliver (eggs and seasonal produce) as we’ve found a use for everything! We check every tray when it comes back to the farm and reuse all clean trays, recycling any that have egg stuck on it. We donate eggs to 3 local charities every week and they take all used egg boxes to distribute the eggs.

24th January, 2023 Farm update… I’m quite enjoying the cold weather… we’re getting beautiful sunrise and sunset on the farm, the ground is hardening up and I no longer have clumps of mud continually stuck to my wellies. Admittedly, my fingers do get numb but I then go in with the hens to warm up. We don’t need heaters for the hen houses, we have curtains on either side of the hen house and have learnt that dropping the curtains by approx.. 15cm results in a 1 degree drop in internal temperature when there is no wind. The natural ventilation running the full length on both sides of the hen house allows us to maintain high quality air which is essential for the hens’ health. Our daily pattern is to drop the curtains early in the morning, bring in the morning sunshine and fresh air and then in the past week, we’ve been raising the curtains mid afternoon to gradually raise the temperatures ready for bedtime – I then check on the temperatures around 8pm – 9pm and pop out to make any final adjustments. We have Wi-fi temperature sensors in the hen houses so that I can monitor it from my phone and we aim to keep the hen houses between 15 – 20 degrees.

After several weeks of relatively few bird flu cases, I am sadly getting a text most evenings from DEFRA with outbreak updates and most recently in the Highlands of Scotland. Whilst this case is far away from our farm, DEFRA have said that Avian Influenza is now endemic across all parts of the UK and hence the importance of strong bio-security on all farms. The situation in the UK remains relatively stable when compared to the US, where over 50 million birds have died this winter across 46 states. As a result, the US is suffering a major egg shortage, the price of 6 eggs has doubled to nearly a dollar an egg and people are trying to smuggle raw eggs across the Mexican border into the US – I never thought I would see people trying to smuggle eggs! My hope is that in the near future a vaccine will be given to all commercial hens. Whilst question marks remain if a vaccine will be effective, it is already being used across all Israel and I understand the US, Europe and UK have recently signed an agreement that they would move as one group in vaccinating all poultry – but no date yet of when this will occur.

17th January, 2023 Update…. The rain continued and continued… there’s a constant aroma of damp clothes from my office as I change several times a day however I’m relieved to share that our basic engineering of draining the water into a large hole outside the hen house and pumping it away 4 times a day, is working well. The hens cannot access any rainwater, are completely oblivious to our draining system and remain in great health. They were very excited to get saw dust donated from Clarkes Timber in Witney, which we’ve spread in the damp areas to absorb the moisture. The hens love to scratch in it, spread it between their feathers and then give a huge shake, similar to my dog after giving him a wash with the hose pipe. We now add wood shavings and straw and then we wait for drier weather when we plan to dig new ditches ready for future rain.

This time of year is unfortunately not so exciting on the farm, my focus is to ensure that whilst it is cold and wet, we maintain the same level of consistent care for the hens and biosecurity to prevent bird flu. We are trying to minimise the number of times that anyone goes in / out of the hen houses each day to reduce the risk of bird flu, which sadly continues its spread across the UK. Our aim is to go in with the hens just once a day and take note of any work we need to complete the following day. We then do several further checks each day via CCTV and checking from the door without going in. I have been following research of a hen robot, designed to live with the flock and to send back a range of data to help us make better decisions. The technology is not quite there yet but I think it will be on farms soon. I don’t see that it will ever replace the need for humans to walk through the flock but given the challenges of bird flu, it could be a useful tool.  

31.12.20: Mayfield Eggs in 2020 – Here is our story….

2020 has changed our farming business, it is now stronger, more stable and more rewarding and that is due to the continuous support from you, the people of Oxfordshire – thank you. We thought it maybe interesting to share our story of 2020.  

We started the year midway through construction of our new egg packing building on the farm. The winter was mild, the concrete was poured in February and all aspects of the build were going well. In early March, prior to lockdowns, we received a number of phone calls from head chefs of Oxford University Colleges breaking the news that they would not be ordering eggs most likely through to October. 

On a Saturday morning in mid March, Gemma and I sat at the kitchen table, looking out across the fields realising we had lots of eggs being laid every day but had temporarily lost our customers. We were also hearing of people struggling to get eggs either because they were isolating or supermarket shelves were empty – it seemed obvious that we could all help one another. We could feed the hens in the morning, pack the eggs and do a few deliveries in the afternoon, so we decided to reach out, via Facebook, to the local community in Witney to offer a home delivery of eggs. 

3 days later, we were getting inundated with people asking for eggs. We worked through the night to clear the backlog of emails. At 1am the emails would stop but at 5:30am they would start again and we couldn’t keep up. We weren’t set up to handle this and then stepped forward Vito, a kind, local gym owner of ‘Weights for Soul’ with a talent for websites, online ordering and payments. 24 hours later, we were up and running…. 

The past 7 months have been a rollercoaster….  we’ve worked 7 days a week since March, took 3 days off in Centre Parcs (but worked 2 of these in the early morning and evenings responding to emails) and a few times felt exhausted and questioned if we should continue. However, coming in off the farm, opening Facebook and reading the kind comments about our eggs made it all worthwhile. One of the highlights was seeing the delicious cakes and bakes made to celebrate VE day – please keep posting your cakes! Our hens have remained blissfully unaware of social distancing rules and tiers 1 – 4. Instead, they have enjoyed great weather, dust bathing and were thoroughly intrigued by the Lloyds bank film crew. We are happy to report that all the ladies who reached retirement age were successfully rehomed. It’s also been wonderful to be able to offer employment to people in those industries which have been hit so hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, including theatre, travel, tourism and hospitality. Since March, we’ve donated eggs every week to local charities such as the Carterton Covid group, local Food banks, vulnerable people and refugees in Oxford and will continue this in 2021.

We passionately believe in the concept of local people being able to access great quality, fresh local produce at an affordable price. For a number of years, our eggs have been sourced by some of the best chefs in Oxfordshire and the high standards that they demand is part of how we farm. We are committed to working hard to ensure that Mayfield Eggs continues to serve our local community, food charities and our fantastic hospitality industry – all in Oxfordshire. 

Thank you.  

Gemma & James