A Bawnboy farmer has hatched an innovative idea to serve fresh free range eggs in his locality with a minimum of fuss – a vending machine. At the entrance to Garrett Bannon’s fine farmhouse stands the impressive machine, and branded Bawn Buí, that’s attracted quite a lot of customers in the few months it’s been operational.
“It’s not a get rich project,” quips Garrett, who currently has 14,000 free range hens laying. “You’re talking two years of a payback on your machine and cover, depending on the trade that goes through.”
Without any marketing whatsoever, he’s currently selling about 30 dozen eggs per week.
“I was hoping to have a Facebook page and signs, but with word of mouth – it’s just took off.”
Inserting €3 Garrett opens one of the 28 yellow doors to retrieve a carton containing a dozen eggs; the foolproof transaction taking just seconds. He explains that the current plastic cartons are recyclable but hopes to switch to cardboard boxes and install a recycling bin beside the machine. Other than restocking the machine twice weekly, Garrett doesn’t anticipate much maintenance, happily reporting that it’s “pretty much a bullet proof machine”.
He notes that eggs should be kept at ambient temperature, and a pair of fans are activated to prevent the vending machine from exceeding 10 degrees. And Garrett is warned through an SMS if there’s any issue.
“Lately locals, neighbours and friends started coming up for eggs and they tell you how good the eggs are,” he says of the reasons for investing in a vending machine.
Biosecurity was uppermost in his mind, to “stop people from coming up to the yard, bringing potential diseases or anything.”
Convenience for both Garrett - who supplies Riverview Eggs, based in Cork - and his local customers was the other key consideration - “rather than me, in the middle of a work day, stopping to get 12 eggs for someone”, he tells the Celt.
To sell in shops requires a packing licence. “You’re allowed to sell at your farm gate once you have a best before date and your code from the Department of Agriculture stamp on it,” says Garrett.
“The beauty of selling them at the end of the road is they’re probably a week fresher than if you got them from your local shop, by the time it goes and gets packaged and all the rest. And I’m finding the older generation loves to buy local – they’ll come out of their way especially to buy the eggs, and know where they’re from.”
Traditionally Garrett’s farm was a suckler enterprise, but he got into the egg business back in 2010, which coincided with the move away from battery due to EU regulations.
“The building boom was going down, I was a civil engineer, and we looked at what we could do on the farm, and the banks backed us to go ahead with that,” he said.
He built his first house for 10,000 birds; which he expanded by 4,000 in 2013 and went full-time, which has given him flexibility as the father of a young family.
A decade on and he plans to build a second house, however prices have increased from €30 a bird in 2010 to between €40-€50 per bird “depending on the spec”.
The Celt wonders if pine martens are much of a threat in these parts, but he says the buzzard is the biggest issue that all poultry farmers have.
“A circling bird and the screeching of it,” he says. “It’s not even what it could take or kill, it’s the sheer fright – if you stress an animal it’ll not lay the next day, simple as that.”
In the course of the interview Garrett regularly compares keeping hens it to cattle farming; relating his Lohmans to Holstein Friesians in terms of their specialised breeding towards production.
He explains how you need to train them where to lay using a lights system. “The big thing is walking through the hens like you would walk through a cattle shed knowing whether they’re right or not – if there’s enough feed and water. It’s very technical,” he says explaining target weight gains.
“People think you just put them in and they lay - no, no,” he says with a laugh.