I recently had the pleasure of visiting a free range egg farm and if you are likewise prone to delight at the thought of ethical, humane, healthy and sustainable rearing practices, then you too will find this story very comforting and appealing.
And as an added bonus, I am going to spare you from the cliched egg puns, eggcellent as they may be 😀
So flap over to Farm Made Foods with me, deep within the district of Coimbatore that lies in the Kongunadu region of the state of Tamil Nadu, India and meet Raam Mohan and his chicks.
Raam is the visionary behind this free range farm which is a refreshing change from the regular cramped caged farms. This place is a haven for its resident poultry that thrive in its vast environs and lay happy, healthy, farm made eggs that you are going to fall in love with, just as I did.
About Raam Mohan –
Raam Mohan hails from an agrarian family which has been into coconut and poultry farming for many generations.
Growing up and imbibing the nuances of the trade, Raam aspired to continue in the same business and to incorporate an ethical, humane and environmentally friendly methodology which would be as natural as possible.
Armed with his studies in Enterprise and Business Growth at the University of Glasgow, Raam was very clear that he would return to his land and do something innovative and different from the existing systems.
His passion and commitment to the cause are highly commendable and one can perceive a steely resolve under that pleasant exterior. He exudes a quiet determination which imparts a sense of reassurance to the listener, that there is a growing consciousness towards products that are safe and healthy and that there is someone dedicated enough to make them available to the end user.
Despite the fact that it was not as easy or economically viable, his persistence in staying motivated and true to his principles, was what made him hold on and that is what brings quality products to his discerning customers today.
The increasing awareness among consumers for foods that follow environment friendly and organic production practices, has also been an encouragement for the Farm Made Foods brand.
And going by the growing size of their satisfied and happy customer base, this business certainly seems to be on the right and sustainable track.
About Farm Made Foods and the concept of Free range –
So it was in 2014 that the Farm Made Foods took birth with a product range that comprised of free range eggs and coconut sugar.
Based in Palladam, this brand has established the infrastructure and facilities to rear free range poultry as per accepted norms.
For the uninitiated, free range would translate to a method of rearing livestock in areas that are spacious and unconfined to an extent of providing the animals or birds an acceptable range of movement. This has obvious benefits, not the least of which is an active, healthier stock.
Specific to poultry, the term free range (which I will henceforth refer to as FR), would apply to birds that are not held captive in cages as compared to their less fortunate counterparts which live their lives incarcerated in restricted spaces known as Battery cages (which I will refer to as BC, which bears no relation to the Hindi cuss word 😀 though the temptation to swear will be great, once you witness their sorry plight)
FR birds are free to roam around in the expansive space dedicated to them, which ensures that they are not stressed as they would have been in cramped cages. They benefit from being able to flap their wings, move around comfortably and very importantly, have their own nesting box where they can lay eggs in peace and comfort. Hens are very sensitive to their environment and nesting boxes are critical for them to feel that sense of tranquility which caged birds are deprived of, as they are forced to stand and drop their eggs.
Eggs from traumatized BC hens are less nutritious than their FR counterparts, with reduced omega 3, vitamin A and D and amino acid profiles. Susceptibility to diseases is also a great danger in caged hens, which would mean medication, both preventive and remedial and which would find its way into their eggs and make them less healthy for human consumption.
At Farm Made Foods, the use of unnecessary antibiotics and growth promoters are strictly shunned, thus ensuring that the final product is as safe as possible for the end consumer.
Also there is an ethical aspect which the brand is very particular about following, which ensures that the birds thrive humanely in a cruelty free atmosphere and natural environment.
As Raam puts it – These are possibly the luckiest birds in India 😀 and I have to agree. I went there with no prior biases but I came away highly (h)enlightened after my eye opening experience.
The poultry farm –
Occupying several acres, the farm houses the birds, as well as the on-site staff.
The birds are accommodated in 1 acre units that consist of poultry houses or barns that lie within fenced yards. Dwarf coconut trees occupy the yards, providing hunting grounds where the hens scrabble for bugs and worms in their bountiful shade.
There are several of these units across the farm and on an average, around 1200 birds occupy an acre of land which is as per the set standards of free range poultry farming.
Entry to the barn follows stringent procedures and is permitted only with removal of footwear and use of masks, in order to avoid bringing in infections.
Each barn consists of grain feeders that are suspended from the ceiling, nozzles for drinking piped water and nesting boxes where they lay their eggs.
The floor is of concrete, which is an expensive material to use but aids in maintaining hygiene and reduces the incidence of disease as compared to the usual ‘kachcha’ mud floors which are porous and absorb fecal matter and harbor germs. The ground is also cushioned with bran for the comfort of the birds.
The roof of the barn is thatched with coconut palm fronds in order to maintain a cooler temperature than the outside.
The nesting boxes are also padded with bran at the base for the safety of the eggs.
Drinking water is supplied via pipes and nozzles which the birds know how to suck from. The natural existing ground water of this region is very salty and unfit for human as well as animal consumption. Potable water is a very valued and precious commodity and it is worthy of mention that even though it is very expensive, it is procured for the consumption of all the livestock on the farm.
The yard of course is the playground for the birds, where there is much fun and frolic that comes with the liberty of stepping out of the barn at will. Dotted with the home grown variety of dwarf coconut trees that generously spread their large canopies, this is where the hens forage for bugs and worms and other insect delicacies.
A few grain and water feeders are also placed outside the barn for those who want to dine Al fresco, in style 😀
The yards are fenced and gated to prevent the birds from straying away and also to protect them from possible predators.
There is a symbiotic relationship between the coconut trees and the hens where the former provides shade, fronds for the barn top, bugs and insects at its base and the latter consume the bugs and also add to the manure through their droppings. The system is pesticide free and the soil is safe for the birds to forage in.
The on site staff are well trained and given proper orientation in order to be be adept at the job. They are provided with clean living quarters and their children if any, are sent to the local school to study.
The Feed –
The feed provided to the poultry is free of antibiotics, growth promoting steroids or hormones or any non natural matter which would affect their health. In fact at Farm Made Foods, it is prepared in house in their own feed mill, which ensures that they know exactly what they are serving their birds with, as opposed to farms that buy ready made meal.
The feed is a blend of non GMO grains. Corn, rice, deoiled soya bean cake and ground sea shell calcium are milled in their own machines, thus ensuring quality control.
In addition to the grain feed, the birds obtain some more natural supplements from the bunches of moringa and neem greens that hang down within reach of their beaks and which they peck at whenever they feel peckish (yeah :-D).
Bits of turmeric are also fed to the hens, which increases their immunity and acts as a deterrent against potential infections.
A typical day at the barn –
A day at the hen house begins quite early at 5.30 am and the feed is made available both inside the barn and outside in the yard. The birds then start their day with their unlimited breakfast options and venture out into the grounds where they spend some time enjoying the coolness of the morning.
The birds are creatures of habit and follow an instinctive daily routine which is commendably disciplined. The urge to lay eggs begins at around 8 am and the peak time lasts till about 11 am.
In this duration, the hens start returning to their nesting boxes to lay. The feed is withdrawn at 9 am because they apparently do not know when to stop eating (sounds familiar ? :-D) and the feed boxes are raised out of their reach. The feed is provided to the birds three times in a day, apart of course from their foraging on their own, which is an ongoing process.
After 11 am, most of them are done laying and then its play time in the yard where they have mud baths, sun bathe, laze around or lie still playing dead, only to get up and run when examined, as if messing with your head. I suspect that this is how the term Fowl play originated 😀
30 % of the laying also happens during the evenings between 3 pm – 6 pm. Very few eggs are laid during the heat of the day. Hens do not have sweat glands so they do not function well in high daytime temperatures.
The eggs are collected by the person in charge, as and when there is a need to empty the nesting box. They are loaded in buckets and are stored under lock and key until it is time to send them to the packing unit.
At 6 pm as if by signal from an internal alarm, the birds troop back into the barn all by themselves in an intriguing show of innate self regulation.
At 6.30 pm the barn doors are secured for their safety and then there is a last round of feed for their dinner. By 11 pm its lights out and the hens just go to sleep wherever they wish, to get up only the next morning at 5.30 am. A regimen that seems too good to be true and one that I have been aspiring to achieve for years. Maybe I need to move to a barn 😀
The birds –
The birds are plump and reddish in color and all of them are quite similar in appearance.
They are also an unstressed and relaxed lot and are oozing with such confidence that they are not even afraid of human proximity and are quite at ease in their presence. In fact they get so used to their handler that they follow him/her around like a pet puppy would.
They do not even squabble with each other and are so well behaved that they will put humans to shame 😀
The chicks arrive at the farm from hatcheries, when they are just a day old. The chicks that are bought are always female since hens can lay eggs even without the participation of a rooster (a tidbit that I just learnt on this visit, despite having spent a lot of my childhood on a farm. I guess I should have focused more on the birds than the bees :-D). These eggs are the unfertilized variety and will not hatch, thus making them vegetarian friendly.
The chicks are given special care in a separate barn till the age of 6 weeks until they are strong and smart enough to fend for themselves and forage for food outdoors from the 7th or 8th week onwards.
By the age of 16 weeks they are trained to lay eggs in the nesting boxes by placing them in the box at frequent intervals and being creatures of habit, they quickly adapt to a particular box and make that the permanent space where they will lay their eggs.
To summarize their characteristics, these hens are fearless, not stressed at all, healthy, plump, pampered, have a cool attitude, totally exude confidence, are unafraid of humans, do not get into fights, are lovable, socialize a lot, love to drink water, love moringa and neem, eat insects, do not know when to stop eating feed, burrow in little pits in the cool shade of the dwarf coconut trees … which is largely how I would also describe myself, apart from the burrowing in pits. Why I have even eaten grasshoppers, if you have followed my earlier Nagaland story 😀
Hygiene and bird care –
The staff see to it that the barns are well maintained. The state of the bran layer is checked and it is cleaned out and replaced from time to time. The barns are odorless and hygienic and conducive to a healthy existence. The cleared out bran which also contains chicken excreta, is then used as manure for the surrounding vegetation and thus the cycle goes on.
The birds do not have sweat glands, so a heat stroke can kill them instantaneously if the ambient temperatures are much higher than their body. Hence to maintain a comfortably cool atmosphere, there are several low lying coconut trees in the yard with their large fronds providing shade. Temperatures in the barn are also monitored. The palm thatched roofs ensure cooler interiors and there are provisions for sprinklers and foggers that emit a spray or mist of water to reduce the heat.
There is a full time veterinary doctor on the premises who is dedicated to monitoring the health of the birds.
The FR hens are inherently (in’hen’rently ?) very sturdy and fortunately because of their healthy habitat, illness is a rare occurrence as compared to BC hens.
The Eggs –
So why are these FR eggs different from the regular BC ones ? Well the reasons are quite obvious, seeing how the living conditions of the birds has a significance on their output.
An appealing rustic brown in color, these eggs have a darker orange yolk than the regular eggs and also appear to be a larger that the usual. I personally found them extremely cute and highly instagrammable and yes that is also a valid reason at times 😀
The Farm Made Foods eggs are stored in their natural form and those that need cleaning or seem unfit, are simply not shipped out. They are not washed with water or any bleaching material like Hydrogen Peroxide. Egg shells are highly porous those that have been subjected to any moisture or chemical are prone to spoilage as well as absorption of the applied substance.
Lab reports on Farm Made Foods eggs indicate that they are at least 3 times richer in Omega 3, twice as rich in Vitamin E and 6 times higher in Vitamin A, as compared to regular eggs. No antibiotic or pesticide residue has ever been detected in these eggs.
There is a also a discernible difference in the texture of the eggs and chefs and domestic cooks love them for their ability to hold well when poached or fried sunny side up or even used in sauces and other recipes. They are said to be safe for use in raw form as in mayonnaise and are also a delight to bake with.
Packaging and Dispatch –
The packaging center is located near the farm and the eggs are transported everyday to be packed and dispatched.
The eggs are packed on a daily basis and shipped within a day so as to reach the super market shelves within 24-48 hours of being laid. Because of the proper handling practices, Farm Made eggs have a shelf life of 3 weeks unrefrigerated and stay good even beyond 6 weeks in the fridge.
The eggs come in a high quality, hologrammed tamper proof, eco friendly box that is made of paper that can be recycled. There is no use of any plastic. Mini nests made of coconut fiber, provide cushioning for individual eggs. This natural fiber can also be reused in several ways.
The company employs 70 % of women workers in their packaging center. The employees are subject to stringent health checks, they are trained to be clean and sanitized before entering the work space, they are given adequate breaks and rest between jobs and are provided with uniforms and gear like coats, masks, caps etc to maintain hygiene.
Comparison between regular battery cage eggs and free range –
So far we have seen and hopefully understood the vast differences between the 2 types of eggs.
One should consume FR eggs because the system is humane and the the eggs are healthy. BC hens are highly stressed and their eggs are not as nutritious and most likely contain traces of antibiotics and steroids.
What deters people from opting for FR range is that they are not easily available and also more expensive than the regular ones.
So what makes free range eggs harder to obtain and cost relatively higher ? Well if you have read my entire narration (and not just skipped to this line), you will know that the reasons though many, are quite simple to fathom. But if you still are unable to figure it out, I will spell it out once more 😀
The main reason that these eggs are not easily accessible to everyone, is of course the cost of production.
1) FR birds have a 50-60 % efficiency, which means around 50-60 eggs per day per 100 hens.
BC birds provide 95 – 100 % efficiency. 100 hens will produce 95 to 100 eggs per day.
2) The land required by FR birds is set at 1 acre (approx 44,ooo sq ft) for 1200 birds.
BC birds are housed in tiny spaces.
3) FR birds require higher amounts of feed and are also provided with more nutritive ingredients because they burn more energy due to their active lifestyle.
BC birds eat far less since the energy is not dissipated as much.
4) FR farms have other costs involved like irrigation, crops etc.
In BC systems these costs are not applicable.
5) FR birds start laying at the age of 22-23 weeks of age.
BC birds lay eggs by the age of 18 weeks, 1 whole month earlier than FR birds which is a significant saving in costs.
Customer care and certification –
Customers are free to visit the farm with prior intimation and witness the processes for themselves. The brand assures full transparency for the comfort of the consumer and welcomes visitors, providing them with an extensive tour of the operations. And if you are lucky as I was, there might be biryani on the cards 😀
The brand is also in the process of obtaining the ‘Certified Humane’ stamp from the certification authority Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), USA.
Farm Made Foods eggs are currently available in the following cities of India – Coimbatore, Cochin, Chennai, Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, NCR Delhi, Kolkata and Ahmedabad.
The eggs are retailed at the outlets of Godrej Nature’s Basket, Foodhall, Big Bazaar, Star Bazaar, More and a few select stores in relevant cities which have a clientele that appreciates quality produce.
Home delivery options are available via options like Big Basket, Healthy Buddha, Doodhwala etc.
A pack of 6 sells at Rs 110/-, pack of 12 at Rs 215 and pack of 24 at Rs 420.
Contact details –
U&V Agro Private Limited
Nasuvanpalayam, Venkitapuram (PO), Palladam – 641664, Tamil Nadu, India.
Phone – +91 97511 70707
Mail – email Farm Made Foods
Please Note – This trip was made in collaboration with Farm Made Foods. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
June 4th, 2019