Nick Panniers and his father Allan supply Essential Waitrose eggs from their farm in Herefordshire

Photography: Sarah Farnsworth/Waitrose Weekend

"You want to be able to take pride in what you do"

“For our hens, the day starts at around 7.30am, when the lights begin to come on in their sheds, gradually, to mimic the sunrise,” says Nick Panniers. “We’ll walk all the sheds, checking that everything’s as it should be and collecting the eggs. We’ve been working with hens for 11 years and you get to know their behaviour pretty well – if something wasn’t right, I’d be able to tell just by the noise when I open the door.


"The birds are free range, so once the pop holes open at around 8.30am, they can go in and out as they like."


“Outside, they’ve got 20 acres per shed to explore, where they can scratch and poke around, with shelters they can run to if something scares them, such as a bird of prey flying over. They tend to like being outside in the morning and evening best – they’re not so keen when the sun’s high in the sky.

"Inside the sheds they’ve got plenty of space – a square metre for every nine birds, which is quite a lot for the size of hen that’s used for Essential Waitrose eggs."

“They’ll wander back in when it starts to get dark and then the pop holes close, so they’re protected for the night. We give them toys to play with, like footballs and bales of dried Lucerne, a type of grass they like to peck at and eat, and they can dust bathe on the floor. But once it gets dark, they’ll get up high and settle to roost for the night.


“We try to stick to a routine with them, walking the sheds at the same time each morning and avoiding going in in the afternoon, so they can enjoy their peace and quiet. It seems to help keep them relaxed and content if they know the routine.”