Best animal welfare practices, nutritional value, social responsibility and two enterprising individuals. HAPPY HENS FARM, a brand that epitomises the listed causes has been making waves in the market. Founded by MANJUNATH M and ASHOK KANNAN, the brand specialises in free range eggs from healthy and as the name suggests happy hens.
As laymen our understanding of the types of eggs available in the market is limited. Which is perhaps why we tend to be satisfied with any generic egg brand without fully capturing its nutritional aspects or production background.
It is important to know that production wise there are many types of eggs available in the market: Regular or caged eggs, cage free or barn system and free range were some of the types listed by Manjunath.
Regular or caged eggs are received from hens that are kept in tightly packed wire cages their entire life. They are denied freedom and are unable to spread their wings or move around, a display of their natural behaviour is impossible. This is quite an unethical and inhuman way to raise hens.
Cage free or barn system eggs are from hens bred and raised within four walls ie a confined area. They are provided nest boxes in which to lay eggs and have limited space for movement. Due to the imposed restriction, the pens are often crowded leading to stress, pain and pecking.
Free range eggs are laid by hens that are allowed to roam in large open spaces and express their natural way of life. They have a pen for night shelter and nests in which to lay eggs in privacy. Fresh air, sunshine and plenty of exercise keeps them fit and healthy.
“At Happy Hens, we raise our hens in large pastures using the free range method. They are happy birds and hence lay the best eggs” says Manjunath “We work on the basis of three core values- A humane standard of raising hens that is natural and animal friendly, provision of quality diet for our chickens ergo producing nutritious eggs that taste great and promotion of social responsibility where we partner with small farms for sustainable growth.”
Manjunath poetically adds that an egg is 50gms of magic. It tastes delicious and is packed with essential nutrients. In order to attain this delicate balance, the hen’s psychological state and diet needs to be well looked after.
“A hen’s natural diet consists of worms, greens and foraged food particles. This diet can be accomplished only through the practice of free range farming. Hens like to socialize, have dust baths and sun bask; to help promote this is to help bring forth their natural behaviour. Hens that have a natural order of life produce eggs that are superior in quality when compared to eggs produced by hens cooped up in a tiny metal cage.”
Happy Hens Farm has an extensive safety plan in place to ensure smooth running. They ensure that they do not rear a large number in a flock and the average flock size is restricted to about 2000 birds. This is their first step towards good bio security. Their beaks are not trimmed and their wings are not clipped. Their diet includes flax seed cakes to enrich eggs with Omega 3. The feed, augmented with seasonal herbs and organic natural medicine is free from non-therapeutic antibiotics and hormones. Happy Hens follows the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) set guidelines and provides 45sq ft of range area per bird, ie arounf 1000 hens in 1 acre.
“The hens we raise are improved indigenous breeds, chosen because they are best suited for backyard poultry. They instinctively love the free-range life and foraging for insects, worms and greens, all of which make for a rich diet. They spend their days wandering across green pastures or scratching under canopies of trees. As of date we have four varieties of hens on our farms.”An indigenous breed reared on Happy Hens Farm is the famous black plumed Kadaknath. Highly popular due to its environmental adaptability and medicinal properties, this bird along with its black plumage possesses black legs, claws, beak, comb and wattle. The meat and bones are dark as well.
“The availability of these native breeds is scarce and we depend on private institutions and government bodies for supply.”
On Happy Hen farms, comfortable, clean nesting boxes are provided to the hens. It allows them to lay eggs and brood in privacy in a secure environment. The eggs are however, infertile.
“The hens at Happy Hens are infertile. Infact, hens do not need roosters to lay eggs, they ovulate regularly. The difference here is that these eggs will be infertile and won’t hatch. If one is in the hen breeding business, then the eggs need to be fertile. There is no difference in nutritional content between fertile and infertile eggs.” Says Manjunath.
Located in two picturesque rural properties in Trichy, a region noted for its temperate climate, clean air and excellent water quality, the farms provide an impressive growth of trees and small copses that provide shade and shelter for the hens. Apart from their own farm, Happy Hens, after a stringent selection process, also employs farmers from surrounding farms who are as passionate and committed to poultry welfare as Happy Hens.
“We work closely with the local community and our farms predominately employ local women. We provide training to farmers and strive to engage women and farmers in an alternative agricultural model that provides a sustainable income source.”
Happy Hens works hard to protect the environment. They promote planting of trees and abstain from using chemical or synthetic fertilizers. Hen manure is used large scale for fertilization. The focus on sustainability goes beyond poultry farming with rearing native breeds of cow, ponies, sheep and goats, all of which further contribute to soil fertility. “As a brand we believe in sourcing hyper locally to reduce transport. Our packaging cartons are made from 100% recycles and bio degradable materials.” Add Manjunath.
The eggs produced at Happy Hens are machine tested for quality. A bright orangish and upright yolk surrounded by a firm albumin is guaranteed. Based on weight alone, the eggs are divided into three variants: Grade AA, Grade A and Grade B. Freshness being of absolute impetus, the eggs are packed on the third day from the date of laying thus assuring fresh eggs through the week. “Eggs need to be kept refrigerated and taken out only about 30 minutes before use. It’s always important to store eggs pointed down and in their cartons as they tend to absorb flavours and odours. It’s important to avoid washing them until they are ready to be used.”
Changes in shell colour can be owed to pigments called porphyrins which are deposited during the egg formation process. The colour change can be linked to the breed of the bird and is quite natural. It has no say whatsoever in the quality, nutritive value or cooking characteristics of the resultant egg.
“Happy Hens eggs vary in shell colour from tan to dark brown and, occasionally, white.”
Unlike the colour change in the shells, the colour of the yolk does say a lot about the quality of the egg. “Carotenoids, that naturally occur in plants, fruits and vegetables and in hen’s feed makes the yolks yellow. The higher the quantity of carotenoids, the stronger the shade of the yolk. While the yolk colour is not indicative of the nutritive value, a golden upright yolk signifies good quality eggs.”
The initial challenge faced was that of learning, given to their non-poultry background but the biggest challenge faced by Manjunath and Ashok is that is of consumer perception. “Consumers want uniform and clean eggs. A lot of stress is placed on aesthetics rather than nutrition. Happy Hens is a natural farm product and cannot take on the look of factory produce. If consumers are open to understanding the amount of input and work that goes into running a free range farm and the challenges involved in producing only the best eggs, then the price comparison with that of regular eggs will not occur. The rising trend in consumption of aesthetically pleasing food is quite alarming.”
Happy Hens will be exploring Northern markets shortly. They have also developed and are in the process of implementing a home delivery system based on a subscription model.
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Instagram: Happy Hens Farm