Healthy, happy birds: a profile of the egg producer of the year

Inspired by his National Egg & Poultry Awards win, William Maughan plans to continue exceeding expectations

By Rachael Porter

William Maughan says that he and his family were thrilled to win the title Egg Producer of the Year at this year’s National Egg & Poultry Awards.

“We didn’t even know we’d been nominated – by our egg buyer Noble Foods – until they called to tell us the exciting news that we’d made it through to the final round of judging,” says William, who’s clearly still buzzing from the family’s success.

“And when we saw who else was on the shortlist we were chuffed to be up alongside them. So to win really was a wonderful surprise and for us – and our business – it’s the icing on the cake,” he says.

William runs his family’s 30,000-layer business with his father, David, and his uncle, Peter.

Third generation

He’s the third generation to run the farm, based near Darlington in County Durham. William’s grandfather John (known as Jack) began the business on a farm tenancy back in the 1950s and today the family has two tenanted units and also owns some land.

The family ventured in free range egg production in 1999, where they started with a 5,000 bird flat-deck shed. The Maughans then added a second larger unit in 2002, followed more recently by the new multi-tier unit at Denton Grange.

There are two separate sites with poultry houses. At one site is a 9,000 flat-deck Harlow shed. The other site now houses 21,000 hens, with the original 5,000 flat deck unit and a new build Big Dutchman Step multi-tier unit. This housed its first flock in January 2019 and contains 16,000 hens.

All poultry houses are stocked with the Bovan Brown breed from Joice & Hill.

Mixed units

The family are tenants of both these farms, belonging to an estate, as well as owning some further land. The holdings in County Durham comprise 200 hectares, 162 hectares of which are dedicated to arable production. The business grows wheat, barley, and oil seed rape; as well as fattening bought-in dairy-cross beef cattle. These are heifers, bought in as young calves, which grazed on and around the poultry ranges and are housed during the winter. They’re reared through to slaughter weight.

Free-range eggs are produced across the two sites and sold through Noble Foods, for a range of retailers and brands including: Happy Egg Co, Co-op, and Tesco.

The judges were impressed by the management and performance of the Maughan’s flocks.  The latest flock based at Morton Tinmouth, housed in the 9,000-bird flat-deck shed, achieved an end of lay production rate of between 86% and 87%. The flock was depleted at 71 weeks and five days (See Table 1).

Flock performance

The previous flock, which was only 5,000 birds in the flat deck shed, laid at a rate of 319.5 eggs per bird/hen housed at 72 weeks.

The high mortality – 8.26% – was due to a challenge from pasteurella: “But the birds still laid very well considering,” says William.

With disease such a significant threat to the birds and the business, biosecurity is a key focus for the Maughans, across all sites. “Entranceways are all gated and kept locked when not in use, with foot dips and vehicle sprays at each gate,” says William. “There are no visitors allowed near the site without prior permission and all vehicles are parked away from the site.

“And all staff and family working with the hens have site-specific footwear. This is changed into before entering the poultry house, with foot dips available before entry to the specific poultry biosecure area.”

Strict measures

These further biosecurity on entry to each poultry house with step-over barriers and change of footwear and hand sanitisers.

“The two flocks are different ages but are kept entirely separate on the two sites. We don’t move between them and are strict about boot dipping, as well as changing clothes and footwear.

“We muck out, clean and disinfect the houses themselves. And we take our time and are very thorough. If you get turnaround right then it sets you up well for the next flock.”

The business uses Poultry Health Services for veterinary advice: “We haven’t had any major issues. We are lucky than there aren’t any other commercial poultry close by and we are away from main roads. The poultry houses have separate access to the rest of the farm,” adds William.

He adds that his uncle Peter works predominantly at one farm and his father, David, works at the other: “While I focus on the poultry at both sites. We also employ a full-time poultry worker, Geoff Coleman, who packs eggs at the larger site, as well as helping on the arable side and I pack eggs at the other unit.”

All training is provided through Noble Foods and the veterinary practice for egg handling, food hygiene and bird welfare and this is continually assessed on visits to the site by myself.

Future plans

The future may see the family invest in more multi-tiered systems. “There’s plenty of life left in our existing sheds, but the new one we installed is already impressing us. The birds are extremely happy in there – there’s more space and variety. Health, welfare and productivity are already exceeding our expectations and these systems are definitely the direction that we want to take, going forward.”

William Maughan also likes to get involved with the wider poultry industry and has previously won BFREPA Poultry Producer of the Year (16,000 hens and under) in 2008 and again in 2017. He also regularly attends the plethora of workshops and training courses hosted by Noble Foods. The most recent was a ‘modern slavery’ prevention course and a workshop on worm treatments.

Both William and David are also actively involved within the farming community. William is Durham NFU branch chairman, speaking on behalf of local egg producers. And he’s also on regional crops boards, as well as being a member of the British Grassland Society and County access forum, for issues such as footpaths.

And David was awarded an MBE in 2007 for his services to farming, which is no small achievement. William is well on his way to following in his father’s footsteps.

For now, he’s basking in the satisfaction of a job well done – reflected in good flock health, welfare and productivity. As well as the latest award win and recognition from industry peers “We don’t look for it – but it’s nice to have approval from the wider egg producing community,” says William. “Striving to do our best every day is part of what we do – it’s why we run such a successful business and produce a top-quality product. And to get a pat on the back for that – every now and again – that certainly helps to keep us motivated too.”

Latest 9,000-bird flat deck shed flock performance at Morton Tinmouth

End of lay production rate: 86% to 87%

Depleted at 71 weeks + five days

Eggs per hen housed: 317.4

Mortality: 7.5%

Feed consumption (cumulative): 130g/bird housed/day

Average egg weight: 64.8g

Seconds: 4.82%

Performance of current 9,000-bird flock at Morton Tinmouth

9,000 Bovan Brown

Age: 42 weeks

Laying rate (hen/day): 93.1%

Laying rate at peak (hen/day): 93.4% at 36 weeks

Eggs per hen housed: 141

Mortality: 1.43%

Feed consumption: 127g/bird housed/day

Bodyweight: 1,742g at 24 weeks

Performance of current flock at Denton Grange, at 23 weeks old

House 1: laying at 95% hen day production.

House 2: laying at 90% hen day production


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