A PICKERING farmer has celebrated 10 years of rearing hens to a RSPCA higher welfare standard.

Andrew Hall has more than 20 years of livestock and arable experience, alongside five years studying for an agriculture and business degree.

RSPCA Assured, the charity’s farm animal welfare and food labelling scheme - is celebrating its 25th anniversary. It has more than 400 members in Yorkshire with Andrew celebrating his 10th year with the scheme.

“I started farming back in 1980 when I was still a teenager,” said Andrew. “My father originally bought one pig as a hobby, and then gradually expanded his herd.”

In 2000, Andrew invested in Wilton Gate Farmhouse and the surrounding seven acres, which soon expanded to 160 acres of rented land, a caravan site and a 6,000-bird free-range shed.

Andrew favours a breed of laying hens known as Bovan Browns, all reared to RSPCA Assured standards, which produces high egg yield.

He said: “I enjoy a challenge and farming teaches you plenty and quickly, but I can honestly say that I never appreciated just how much is involved in producing quality eggs.

“Being part of the Eggsell co-operative supplying only RSPCA Assured free-range eggs, I’ve always had the hens’ welfare right at the heart of the business – and I firmly believe that how you look after your flock impacts on the quality of the eggs produced.

“While the economics of farming remain a constant challenge, the RSPCA guidelines to produce eggs from a higher welfare flock remain consistent and that’s reassuring – both for me as a farmer and for customers who are increasingly demanding better conditions for farm animals.”

The laying hens also encourage visitors of the caravan site, particularly children, to understand where free-range eggs come from and how to raise them in a free-range environment.

“I enjoy working with all livestock, but I was taken aback by what characters laying hens can be,” he said. “In any flock, I can identify particular birds because of unusual behaviour such as one notable hen called Philip, named after my stepdaughter, who jumps over the fence every day to visit the campsite.

“I’m proud of the way we farm here and proud also to be a part of RSPCA Assured, which is also celebrating an anniversary, its 25th, this year.”