Egg producers crack on by increasing flock
A Co Fermanagh egg business which counts The Merchant Hotel among its customers is planning to increase the size of its flock.
Eileen and John Hall of Cavanagh Free Range Eggs had been supplying another packer when they decided to establish their own brand, named after their townland.
A decade later, their 'do-it-yourself' approach and attention to detail has impressed retailers and led them into talks with major UK supermarkets.
They've even taken a lesson from the world of soft drinks and started stocking their eggs in a vending machine (right).
Eileen, who is originally from Co Westmeath, and her husband John, from Co Monaghan, bought their 80 acre farm with money gifted to them for their wedding.
They set up a beef and sheep farm - but the foot and mouth crisis of 2001 prompted them to shift to poultry.
Eileen Hall said: "It was very bleak, and we just decided that we would be better doing something to make it pay.
"Beef and sheep cattle were worth nothing at the time and I was also working in an office over 20 miles away.
"Caged hens weren't for us, so we decided to go free range. We used to sell a lot of our eggs down south and in the UK through another company, but the market was getting harder and we saw an opportunity for a good free range egg company."
Eileen and John sent sample boxes to Northern Ireland retailers, restaurants and hotels and were surprised by the positive feedback. As a result, the couple were able to secure the five star Merchant Hotel in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter as one of their first customers.
Eileen said: "We just dropped off some samples and it turned out that they really liked them and we've been supplying them ever since."
Quickly, the couple went from 5,000 to 42,000 hens, gradually building customers with samples and word of mouth.
The pair plan to expand the flock by a further 50% to cope with increased demand.
The couple manage the hens in five flocks, all of which are at different stages of development, to ensure a constant level of production.
The hens are kept in five large hen-houses, four of them based on the main 80-acre farm and one based on a 30-acre out-farm.
The hens are kept free range in five sheds, the last of which cost around £500,000 to build.
Currently, Cavanagh Free Range sends over 8,500 eggs a week to Great Britain.
The pair have built contacts abroad and hope to secure deals in Singapore and the Middle East.
Eileen and John have also sought more innovative ways to sell their products, so when the chance to buy an egg vending machine came up, Eileen said it was an offer they couldn't refuse.
The vending machine is based outside an off-licence in Clones, Co Monaghan and sends a text message alert to Eileen when it is down to less than four trays of eggs.