The Falkland egg producer who sources UK chicks, 8,000 miles away
30 August 2022 | by Farming UK Team
Allan Steen (centre), an eighth generation Falklander, has been producing eggs on the island since 2013
Situated in Warwickshire, it could be said that Hy-Line’s Millennium hatchery is ideally positioned for distributing chicks around the UK, even a trip to customers in the north of Scotland may seem quite a journey for newly hatched chicks.
That, however, pales into insignificance compared with the near 8,000 mile route involved in delivering to the Falkland Islands.
Allan Steen, an eighth generation Falklander, has been producing eggs on the island since 2013 and has used Hy-Line from the start.
Initially he looked at sourcing his flocks a little closer to home from Uruguay or Brazil but difficulties with export licensing from these countries prevented this.
Despite the miles involved, sourcing from the UK works well and according to Allan the chicks arrive in excellent shape.
The trip begins with a truck journey to RAF Brize Norton where the boxes are loaded by military personnel onto a civilian plane.
A 6 hour flight gets them to Cape Verde for refuelling followed by a further 10 hours in the air before landing at Mount Pleasant.
“The main consideration when planning the journey is the effect of the wind on the plane’s ability to land,” says Allan.
“It’s a very windy place and if there are northerly winds the flight will likely be delayed. We need to take seasonal weather patterns into account when ordering the chicks.”
“Despite the miles involved, sourcing from the UK works well,” Allan says
A delayed landing can obviously have serious consequences for a cargo of live chicks, but it has only happened on one occasion.
“The flight was delayed for 24-hours but fortunately Hy-Line were able to switch some orders around and found an alternative destination for the chicks and we received a rescheduled batch,” recalls Allan.
With his 2,000 birds, split into two flocks, Allan is the only commercial egg producer on the Island, although there are numerous backyard flocks.
Since commencing egg production, he has continued with his ‘day job’ of Network Manager for a communications supplier. Allan’s entry into poultry was a result of spotting an advert in the Islands’ weekly publication the ‘Penguin News’.
With the closing of the only dairy farm on the Falklands which also happened to have 500 laying hens, the Falkland Islands Development Corporation was seeking “intentions of interest” from anyone wishing to supply fresh eggs as part of their import substitution initiative.
Step forward Allan, who now rents parts of the farm from the Corporation and jokes that his operation is almost considered to be part of the Island’s critical national infrastructure.
Marketing the eggs couldn’t be simpler with a lack of regulations meaning they are all sold “as-laid” and at once price, £3.50 a dozen.
The cost of freight to the islands means input costs are well in excess of those in the UK, with feed imported from Uruguay in 45kg bags.
The chicks soon settle into their new home in the south Atlantic
The farm’s customer base includes the islands’ three main retailers, a host of bars, restaurants, fishing fleets and direct sales to consumers.
The eggs are sold on trays and a switch to plastic is about to be implemented because the cost of importing fibre has become unsustainable at £12,000 a year.
The biggest challenge is matching supply with demand from the population of 3,000 civilians and tourists numbering 50k to 60k a year who arrive mainly on cruise ships.
The 1,000 to 1,200 military personal posted on the Islands are currently beyond the scope of Allan’s marketing due to the MOD’s purchasing criteria and consequently those eggs are imported from the UK by boat which involves a six-week sailing.
“Our peak demand is in the winter when the backyard hens go out of lay,” says Allan, “and then we don’t have enough eggs.
“But then there will be times in the summer when we end up dumping eggs with no outlet for any surplus.” Another cost to the business is the humane disposal of end of lay hens.
With the farm’s aging poultry sheds showing signs of wear and tear, Allan is considering replacing them and expanding at the same time with a view to suppling the MOD.
“It will mean a raising of standards so that we can meet their requirements, but I think they would appreciate some fresh eggs.”