WITH Easter just around the corner, thoughts are naturally turning to eggs, but on a Hacketstown family farm it isn’t the chocolate variety that’s creating a bit of egg-citement but the natural, organic kind!
Butler’s Organic Eggs was established in 2007, when David Butler took over the family farm in Hacketstown. What started out as a 250-bird enterprise has grown slowly and strategically over the years into a 2,500-bird organic egg farm, set back from the roadside in lush, green fields.
It’s where laying hens roam freely, scratch at their leisure across a large open area and feast on specially-produced organic pellets. In fact, Butler’s eggs are now in such demand that they supply Avoca, the Green Door Market in Dublin, the Dublin Co-op and Nourish, with even more plans to significantly grow his county Carlow-based enterprise.
David’s wife Paula has now given up a permanent, pensionable post as a communications and freedom of information officer with over 20 years’ service to join David at the coalface. It means they can now plan better for a more family-friendly future and developing an organic egg legacy they can pass down to their children, Noel (8) and six-year-old Kate.
“We’re turning customers away, such is the demand for our organic eggs,” said Paula. “I left my job to help grow a family business we can pass on to our children. David can now concentrate on the welfare and farming side of the business while I can focus on brand and business development.
“We’re working closely with Carlow Local Enterprise Office (LEO) and through the Interreg-funded, Ireland-Wales food, drink and life sciences Catalyst programme. I’m working with a consultant on an expansion plan, which could potentially double the size of our business over a number of years,” added Paula.
“There is definitely room for expansion. We can’t continue to turn customers away. But welfare is also our priority. Any expansion will have to be done strategically and carefully. Our birds are happy birds and any disruption or changes could upset them and could also result in a sudden drop in production.
“Our motto has always been ‘fresh eggs from happy hens’ and we want to keep it that way,” she added.
“Carlow has a long, proud food heritage and is renowned as a quality food and drinks producer, particularly in terms of supply to the convenient and ever-growing Dublin market. Welfare and quality are at the heart of everything we do and we need to ensure that any changes don’t upset our ladies!”
A Dublin-based wholesaler assists with prompt and widespread distribution of the 1,000-plus dozen eggs produced weekly. And Butler’s Organic Eggs are also sold in farmers’ markets across Leinster, including through organic meat producers Coolanowle at the farmers’ market in Carlow. SuperValu has been a huge supporter, too, while their eggs are also available in select stores around Carlow.
Like all organic egg farms, Butler’s Organic Eggs are heavily regulated and regularly inspected by the department and the industry umbrella body. Animal welfare is paramount, David says, and he’s all for checks.
“Birds are very well looked after in organic production. They have twice the space that even free-range hens do. Their food is second to none.
“We would love to be able to source organic layer’s pellets in Ireland. They have to come in from the UK. We don’t grow enough organic crops in Ireland at the moment to allow for their manufacture. Organic means just that – no pesticides, no chemicals, no GMOS, no colourants and no fertilisers. It is the very best of the best. Being able to source it in Ireland would not just provide extra jobs here, but it would cut down on transport costs and emissions and be better all round.”
David and Paula put the growth in demand for Butler’s Organic Eggs down to better awareness of the benefits of eating organic. “As consumers are becoming more aware of the benefits of eating healthily, the demand for organic continues to grow,” said David. “Over the years, we expanded gradually, ensuring all of our birds are allowed the freedom to roam on organic pastures and have plenty of space indoors with a very sought-after large scratch area.
“The Irish Organic Association certifies our farm. IOA ensure a rigorously maintained set of production and processing standards and a certification scheme for organic food. This ensures that unlike any other eggs produced, including free-range eggs, there are no chemicals, antibiotics or artificial fertilisers used in the bird’s diet or on their pastures,” he added.
But in spite of their best efforts to educate and inform consumers, some people still ask if the hens on Butler’s Organic Egg farm roam freely.
“I explain that organic is like free-range plus, plus, plus,” explained Paula. “Organic means they have to be free-range. Their feed and where they roam and scratch is free from all the things that harm our food, harm our environment and ultimately harm our health. Organic hens have twice the space indoors and outdoors. Small wonder why we feel they taste twice as good.
“Their welfare is paramount. It always was and will always be, no matter what else happens into the future.”