Jean-Paul’s free-range hens have an eggcellent life

Chirpy yellow boxes of the Happy Egg Co seen adorning supermarket shelves will be familiar to regular shoppers in Dacorum.

But what they may not realise is that a large proportion of them are the product of contented hens on a farm in Bulbourne, near Tring – just one of the hundreds of approved farms in England, Scotland and Wales.

Jean-Paul Michalski is a Happy Egg Farmer at Bulbourne Farm, near Tring

Jean-Paul Michalski is a Happy Egg Farmer at Bulbourne Farm, near Tring

The site is an example of a platinum Happy Egg farm – due to the high welfare standards – and has been operating as a Happy Egg producer for 12 years.

On 100 acres of land sandwiched between the railway line and the Grand Union Canal, experienced chicken farmer Jean-Paul – aka JP – Michalski – and his team collect an astonishing average of 13,500 eggs each day when the farm is at peak production.

These are whisked away to the main packing centre in Lincolnshire, before being redistributed to supermarkets nationwide.

As part of a Farmers Weekly experiment back in 1954, the magazine invited readers to help them revolutionise the family farm near Tring using modern techniques and machinery.

Jean-Paul collects an average of 13,500 eggs a day from his farm when its at peak production

Jean-Paul collects an average of 13,500 eggs a day from his farm when its at peak production

The site first started farming chickens in the late 1990s.

Today, Bulbourne Farm is home to a brood of around 14,000 hens when at full capacity, which are housed in eight self-sufficient, mobile barns powered by solar panels and a wind generator.

JP – who both works and lives on the farm with his family and pet dog Sadie – has raised chickens for 27 years and now spends time travelling across the country, thanks to his position as national production manager for Happy Egg Co’s parent company Noble Foods.

He liaises with other farmers to ensure the egg laying process is going smoothly and efficiently, as well as remaining cost effective.

Gazette reporter Becca Choules gets up close and personal with the hens at Bulbourne Farm

Gazette reporter Becca Choules gets up close and personal with the hens at Bulbourne Farm

“I like to see what other farmers are doing with their birds, as we’re always learning more about chickens.

“If something’s working particularly well, we can think about rolling it out across all of the farms.”

Back home on his own green pastures, Jean-Paul works hard to ensure his girls are in tip-top condition, championing the Happy Egg Co’s main philosophy.

JP, 45, said: “We feed them on a special mash which gives them all the amino acids they need.

“If you look at them, the hens look happy and healthy – they have shiny feathers and red combs and wattles.

“You can actually tell by the colour of their combs and wattles whether they’ve been out in the sun or not.

“Hens who have pale pink wattles and combs don’t spend much time outside, but if they’ve been sunbathing then it’s a deep red colour.”

Chickens prefer grey, drizzly weather by nature – “The usual British summer!” said JP – and have to be enticed out in hot spells around trees and bushes which provide shade, as well as protection from birds of prey.

JP said: “Hens are actually very intelligent. It’s been proven that they can count to five, and they are naturally inquisitive creatures.”

To encourage this, the birds’ outdoor space is decorated with play apparatus including sand pits, perching logs, dust baths and raised platforms to stimulate them and keep them happy, as well as providing protection from the elements and predators.

Although happy, a hen’s laying life lasts only 14 months, as after they reach this age they begin to eat more but lay less.

Unfortunately, once they become ineffective cost-wise the majority of the hens’ fate is a one-way trip to the slaughterhouse.

However, JP does his best to find as many local homes for them as possible, as a healthy hen can live to around 10 years old.

Asked if he ever gets attached to the animals, JP said: “If you’re looking after thousands of birds and spending so much time with them, you’re bound to find one or two characters that stand out.”

Readers may recognise JP, as he was the farmer chosen to star in the brand’s first TV advert in 2009, which was shot on site at Bulbourne Farm.

You can watch JP and his hens having some quad-biking fun to Steppenwolf rock classic Born To Be Wild on the Farmers Weekly YouTube channel.