“From 250 birds on 3-acres Land to 4,050 organic birds on 8-acres’”

Paula and David Butler of Butler’s Organic Farm (Butler’s Organic Eggs), Coolmanagh, Hacketstown, Co. Carlow.

“David was left the farm by his father, Noel Butler, and it was always rented. David, originally from Bray, Co Wicklow, who always had an interest in farming, attended agricultural college after school (1991), but did not immediately get into farming.

He worked in the cabling industry and had a few other jobs before deciding to work for himself in 2006. After a lot of research into what area of farming would be sustainable, he purchased 250 organic birds and converted 3 acres to organic pasture.

Certified by the Irish Organic Association and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Butler’s Organic Farm, producing organic eggs was established.

David spent many a day in his childhood delivering eggs and chicken with his father across Dublin. We are not sure if it was a coincidence, but David now travels the same routes delivering organic eggs across Dublin.

Following his research, he discovered a gap in the market for organic produce and went down the route of producing organic eggs.

I worked in the City of Dublin VEC as an administrator, followed by Communications/FOI officer in the Institute of Technology Carlow for over 17 years while always supporting David in the background.

Research suggested there was a gap in the market for organic farming, and David was interested in working with animals. He chose poultry as he felt it would be more sustainable, and there was a shortage in the production of organic eggs in the country. He also had hens in his back garden in Bray and sold eggs to the neighbors.

We started with 250 birds on 3-acres and now have 4,050 organic birds on 8-acres, producing 300 doz eggs per day. So we have grown slowly/organically over the past 15 years, with loads of learning curves along the way.

The rest of the farm is rented for grazing and tillage. We also have a forestry plantation.

Having recently expanded the size of the operation from 2,000 to 4,050 birds, our primary objective is to manage the farm in the most cost-effective, sustainable way.

The welfare of our organic birds is of the utmost importance, and we are constantly tweaking practices to ensure they are happy and healthy.

We have grown slowly to ensure the organic eggs we produce are top-quality, and there is as little stress on the organic birds as possible.

We are both full-time, with David managing the farm, while I concentrate on business management, administration, marketing, and finance. Both of us do deliveries, meeting customers, and ensuring the freshest organic eggs are on the shelves. Two part-time employees collect and pack eggs.

Organic farming

There are very strict rules when it comes to housing organic birds and producing organic eggs. First, the top priority is the bird’s welfare and secondly, that there are no chemicals or pesticides.

Farmers cannot spray chemicals on the outdoor pasture on organic egg farms, and the hens must be fed grain grown without pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilisers.

Organic hens are kept in smaller flocks. Standards specify a maximum flock size of 3,000, which is much smaller than all other production methods.

Having fewer birds encourages better outdoor range use and makes it easier to manage bird welfare on an individual level, which helps to ensure the birds are kept to the highest standards of welfare.

Organic poultry must have continuous and easy daytime access to an outdoor range covered with suitable vegetation.

Organic standards also require that laying hens have access to a much larger indoor and outdoor range than free-range standards.

Each hen is allowed a minimum of 6 birds per square metres of space indoor-outside compared to 9 birds per square meters for hens reared to free-range standards.

The range is rested between flocks to allow vegetation to grow back and prevent disease build-up in the soil.

In addition, the outdoor range provides for a stimulating environment where hens can explore, forage for insects, scratch around in the ground, sunbathe and dust bathe. Organic standards ban the routine use of antibiotics.

Organic standards and organic birds are not fed on GM grain or feed (which is common in free-range and non-organic hens). Outdoor foraging also means that organic hens get to eat various plants, grubs and insects, which adds variety to their diet and helps keep them healthy.

Concerning sales, Covid-19 has not impacted the business. But we have had to re-brand as our highly noticeable green box became unavailable, and every egg producer in the country had the option of a grey box only.

We took this as an opportunity to look at our branding and created a whole new look for Butler’s Organic Eggs. Our unique green box was transferred into a unique green label with a new logo, and we were delighted with the outcome.

Overall, costs have increased, but we are working hard to try and be more cost-efficient rather than pass the increase on to the customer.

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