Free range egg producers across Great Britain have planted more than one million trees to create a happy habitat for their hens.
Chickens derive from jungle fowl meaning they express their natural behaviour when provided with the shade and shelter offered by the trees.
Cheshire farmer Ben Wharfe has planted 420 trees on the farm he established in 2011. Trees have been an important part of Sapling Home Farm, near Knutsford, since the very beginning; even influencing the name of the farm.
Having grown up on his family farm, Ben wanted to build a sustainable mixed farm, just like his Dad. Established on a greenfield site, it was planned with plenty of landscaping to ensure it blended in from the start.
The trees that were planted include oak, ash, silver birch and field maple and offer huge benefits to the egg enterprise which supplies 3.5 million eggs annually.
“It wasn’t just a commercial decision but also ethical,” Ben said.
He planted a variety of grasses and clovers out on the range to attract a variety of insects and provide lots of different tasty treats for the 12,500 layers. But it is the trees that have given the hens the opportunity to display their natural behaviour.
“Now the trees are now more established they offer more shelter for the hens, it has encouraged them to range for longer, further and more often,” Ben added.
Biodiversity is also important on the farm and the family has a wildflower meadow and has planted 600 metres of new hedgerows with around 20 hedgerow trees.
“We chose different species of hedgerow plants to provide flowers, berries and cover year round which benefits all the wildlife on the farm.”
The vast majority of farmers meet the cost of planting the trees themselves, recognising the benefits to their birds.