Farmer Alan Bird: From russian car exports to egg production

Alan and Avril Bird currently have 26,000 hens that produce 24,000 eggs every week. And the hens are free range, which makes the eggs more valuable. Demand for them is constantly increasing.

Over the years, though, the farm’s assets have been managed in various ways. Unusually for a farmer, Alan began by exporting cars to Russia. But gradually Askew Rigg Farm has become increasingly focused on more traditional farming activities. The farm has been home to sheep, cattle and pigs but today egg production dominates. To broaden the farm’s sources of income, Alan and Avril will plant 24 hectares of its total xx hectares with willow.

“That’s rather a lot but it’s because our land is not very fertile,” Alan explains when we meet in the farm courtyard. “It’s actually difficult to find a use that could give us a better return than what willow appears to offer.”

Alan Bird

Normally he would be surrounded by his free-range hens but this particular week the veterinary officials have ordered all poultry to be kept indoors due to the risk of infection from a Siberian virus brought to the UK by migratory birds .“When the authorities order measures like this, you just have to obey,” he says. Alan has a number of reasons to want to invest in willow. The idea came when he encountered Iggesund Paperboard and the company offered him a long-term contract to grow willow. What attracted him was the idea of better utilising his land combined with the low work intensity required.

“But it was also important for me to know where my harvest would go and how it would be used,” he adds. “I deal directly with Iggesund Paperboard without any middlemen. I know what the company does and for more than 20 years I’ve known people who work there – those were also factors in my decision.”

The money from the willow will reinforce the farm’s other income, even though the egg production is going well and market demand is increasing. To some extent that is because major customers are choosing to prioritise free- range eggs over ones from caged hens. But Alan also has his own idea of how to increase the demand for eggs.

“There are nine million dogs in the UK – if we could teach people to give their dogs two eggs a day, egg production would increase and the dogs would be healthier too,” he says with a smile. He’s taught his own dogs to eat eggs, so there are only nine million minus two still to go.