Tuesday 16th October 2018
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Photography: Courtesy of LJ Fairburn
Featured in the August 2018 issue

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With a history spanning more than 60 years, L J Fairburn is one of the largest independent egg producers and packers in the UK – and although the business has changed over the years, its family values haven’t.

From its humble beginnings back in 1951 – when grandfather Leslie James Fairburn bought 150 chickens for £150 – the enterprise has grown and evolved while maintaining the loyalty and integrity it was built on.

Today, it is run by the third generation of the Fairburn family. Managing director Daniel is supported by his wife Sarah-Louise and sisters, Caroline and Sarah, who all take a hands on approach to ensuring L J Fairburn produces the best, freshest eggs for its customers.

Following recent financial investment to maintain the business’ sustainability, the Fairburns and their 250-strong workforce now produce and pack more than 17 million organic, free range, barn and colony eggs each week for customers including many of the UK’s leading supermarkets.

“It’s incredible if you think about where we have come from, to where we are today,” says Sarah-Louise.

“We’ve been through an incredibly challenging time – a few years ago we found ourselves in an unsustainable position, where we were selling our eggs through a middleman and something had to change. So we made this huge decision that we were going to supply direct to retail.

“We just had a small family office, one email address that was a personal one and everything was done on paper, not computers. We’ve made huge investments, gained deals with supermarkets, and that’s been recognised, as we won the IGD Award for Business Transformation in 2014.

“We started gaining retail contacts pretty quickly and over five years secured eight major retail contracts; retailers have given us great opportunities and we’re pleased to say the ones we supply today have very sustainable approaches to farming and food security.

“We would have made the decision to go alone again in a heartbeat but we didn’t realise how many hours we would have to put in to turn the business around to make it fit for retail – and having very small children has meant we have missed precious time with them as babies, but we’re happy as we know now the business will be fit for the future for them to take on.”

Fairburn’s raises all types of hens and produces a large variety of eggs; the business has 5.5 million laying and rearing hens, 3.5 million of which it owns, while the rest are contract produced. 

Each year they rear in excess of 1.5 million pullets for their own use and re-sale, as well as milling more than 80,000 tonnes of feed, including grain grown on their 2,000-acre arable farm.

The family also has its own expanding fleet of seventeen lorries to distribute feed, collect eggs and deliver its finished products to its retail partners.

Sarah-Louise says the advantage of owning their own mill means the family can develop their own feed, tailored to the birds’ needs and product requirements. They can also develop bespoke specialist diets if required and the business is in a position to be very reactive to any changing requirements too.

A great deal of time is taken to identify the best breeds, and Sarah-Louise says that working closely with breeding companies means they can discuss innovations in genetics such as improving the lifespan of each hen, increasing laying efficiencies and the quality of the egg itself.

“We rear our own birds from one day old chicks, rather than bring them in when they’re due to start laying,” she adds.

“This means we know everything about the birds and how they are cared for and it means we’ve got it right from the beginning – when they turn into pullets (laying hens) at approximately 16-18 weeks of age, only the best reared chicks live to be strong and efficient laying hens; we are in control of that whole process.”

All Fairburn’s eggs hold the British Lion Quality mark, which means they have been produced to the highest standards of food safety. The family’s hard work has been justly rewarded too; they have received more than thirty awards and accolades including most recently being named National Egg & Poultry Awards – Poultry Business of the Year Winner 2018.

“We’re really proud to have this recognition, it’s a great boost for our employees – as without them we wouldn’t be able to do any of this,” says Sarah-Louise.

“Eggs are really fashionable at the moment, they’re incredibly healthy too, but to us, an egg is not just an egg..

“We collaborate with people like Lincolnshire chef Rachel Green on taste testing and we work incredibly hard on all aspects to ensure we’re producing the very best eggs we can.

“With technology moving so fast, particularly in our sector, new housing, tracking, traceability and stock control it’s quite relentless, and everything we earn goes back into the business.

“We work with forty other egg producers too and we’re helping to grow their business and they are helping us, giving us more volume, more strength to go to the supermarkets and we’re really proud of that.

“We’re hoping our children will eventually want to take it on and we want to leave them in a good, strong position too.”

To find out more about Fairburn’s Eggs visit www.fairburnseggs.co.uk

CHARITY RUN  
It’s not just their own farming business the Fairburns are passionate about. Managing director Daniel is preparing to run two gruelling marathons in two days across the Sahara Desert to raise funds for Farm Africa this autumn.

The charity aims to reduce poverty by unleashing African farmers’ abilities to grow their incomes in an environmentally sustainable way and Daniel is a huge supporter of its work. Back in 2014 he raised more than £35,000 by climbing Mt Kilimanjaro; then he decided he wanted to take on another challenge in 2018 to support his fellow farmers and their families, through which he hopes to raise more than £50,000.

His latest adventure will take him over 84km of sun-baked sand dunes and rugged mountain ranges, sleeping under the stars along the way. Daniel runs daily and is now furiously training for his double marathon effort.

“Thanks to everyone’s extreme generosity, I was able to raise a huge sum from the Kilimanjaro climb, smashing our original target of £35,000,” said Daniel.

“This autumn, when I tackle the Sahara, I’d love to raise even more. Farm Africa is a fantastic cause, helping people in need in a really positive way. As a father of four, I know that providing for your family and putting good food on the table is paramount and shouldn’t be a luxury.”

With a start line in the shadows of Mount Kissane in Morocco, Daniel and his co-runners will follow the Draa Valley south. About 52 miles later – with plenty of ups and downs along the way – they’ll cross the finish line at the stunning Nakhla Dunes near Zagora on the edge of the imposing Sahara Desert.

You can make a donation via Daniel’s fundraising page www.justgiving.com/saharachallenge.

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