Cornish farmer Len Olds believes his chickens’ wholesome, homemade diet is the secret to the success of the family’s free range egg farm.
Len established the venture with his son Pete, who wanted to return to the family farm after studying at agricultural college. Eighteen years later, with 14,000 chickens producing more than 10,000 eggs a day, Cornhill Farm is a Platinum Producer for Waitrose and has a growing local customer base.
The Olds family has been based at Cornhill Farm, near Camborne in Cornwall, for five generations. In 1912, Len’s grandfather, Harry Olds, bought the farm, which is now 350-acres and home to Pete and his children. The Olds family grow, sell and store grain and feed, as well as run a contracting business. However, the egg farm is the main focus.
“The farm has changed over the years, to suit our needs at the time,” says Len. “When Pete decided he wanted to come back to the farm, we had to adapt to accommodate him. I thought free range eggs were a good idea, so we bought our first chicken shed and started selling eggs at the farm gate, through an honesty box. It worked very well”
The chickens, which are now spread across four sheds, are blacktailed hens, a hardy breed that is well-suited to the exposed site overlooking Godrevy Bay and the moors towards Zennor and St Ives.
The hens roost in insulated mobile hen houses, which are regularly moved around the farm so they have fresh grass. During the day, they are free to roam over the herb-rich grasses and forage for bugs.
Not only do Cornhill chickens range on twice as much grass as the average hen, the family also grows seasonal cover crops for them, including sunflower seeds and maize. The farm produces 11.5 tonnes of chicken feed a week, made from its own crops. "We mill and mix our own grain from wheat, barley and oat crops grown here at Cornhill and that goes into their rations,” Len explains. “It’s unusual for an egg farm to do that – most buy in seed from all over the country. I think that’s what makes our eggs so special.
“We are what we eat and it’s the same for the chickens. The quality of the food affects the quality of the eggs they produce. It helps with the provenance of the eggs and it reduces food miles too.
“We’ve always been conservation-minded when it comes to looking after the land. We’ve got an area down through the valley that’s set aside for marshland, we’ve planted trees and set up a pond for wildlife. Our solar panels provide quite a bit of the power for the farm and that really helps when we’re drying crops in the summer.
“Since we started, our priority has been to do right by the hens and that means providing them with the best possible environment. We’ve planted trees and put trailers out to provide protection, as hens like to be near a shelter. It makes them feel safe.”
As the farm has adapted to meet the changing needs of the family, as well as its retailers and customers, it has been supported by South West insurer Cornish Mutual.
Jackie Coutts has been Cornhill Farm’s local insurance advisor for 16 years. She said: “Cornish Mutual has insured Cornhill Farm for generations. The Olds are a hardworking farming family and are very well respected in the local community.
“It has been wonderful to see the egg farm grow during the time I have known them. They have managed to adapt to meet the changing needs of their customers and have done a brilliant job of marketing their free range eggs to local customers.
“At a time when people are becoming more interested in knowing where their food comes from, the happy hens roaming the fields at Cornhill Farm are a lovely sight.”
“We’ve been insured by Cornish Mutual for as long as I can remember,” says Len. “They’ve always been good to us and when we have had problems on the farm, there’s never been a quibble.
“Cornish Mutual are our 100 percent back up. We know we can trust them.
While most of the eggs go to Waitrose, the farm takes a growing percentage to local markets and farm shops.
“We’re keen to grow our local market,” Len says. “We even have people who come up from St Ives and Penzance to buy direct from us once a week. We’ve got some really loyal customers, which is amazing.
“One of the reasons our eggs are so popular is that they are really fresh: 95 percent leave the farm within 48 hours of being laid. That makes a real difference when you crack the egg into a pan. Once people try one of our eggs, they can really see and taste the difference.”