Nothing brings joy like the gooey, golden yolk of a soy-marinated egg. This year, we’ve been on a mission to find the best quality eggs, that are responsibly farmed from well-cared for chickens.
Enter Cacklebean: the family-owned, entirely free-range chicken farm nestled at the foot of a hill outside Stow-on-the-Wold. From the moment you arrive at the farm there are chickens everywhere.
Stating the obvious? Maybe.
As soon as you’re through the gate, you can see a field of chickens basking in the sun. Walking up to the packing room, we were accompanied by a few curious cockerels. Even the goats had a few dozen chicken pals pecking about their field.
Growing the flock
The Bone Daddies birds only lay for us – so every egg in every ramen has come from our hens.
This summer, Team Cacklebean reared a new flock for Bone Daddies. The team believe in regenerative farming: they never buy birds in.
The incubator in the site’s hatchery can hold anywhere up to hundreds of eggs at a time. After 21 days of incubation, the hatched chicks are retrieved. At this point, most farms will discard unhatched eggs.
“We put the unhatched eggs back in,” Paddy explained. “And give them an extra three days. We give every chick a chance – and we often get lots more healthy birds from those extra few days.”
And the differences between don’t stop there. On the vast majority of chicken farms, male chicks are killed when they are a day old. At Cacklebean, they get to join the girls in the maturing shed.
The maturing shed can comfortably house up to 1500 chicks at a time. It’s here that all the chicks are vaccinated, and fed with a crumb feeder – which turns pellets into chick-sized morsels.
“Our chicken food is incredibly important,” Paddy told us. “High quality feed, with probiotics and the kind of nutrition which prevents diseases, is key to a healthy flock. We spend around £15,000 on chicken food a week. They eat better than we do!”
As the chicks mature, the environment in the shed is adjusted, to prepare them for life on the farm. The process isn’t rushed at Cacklebean.
“We aren’t in the business of getting our birds to size as quickly as possible. If they grow evenly and steadily, they’ll be healthier and lay better eggs later on.”
The teenage Arlington Whites we got to peek at in the maturing shed were inquisitive and chirpy (literally). The farm can mature two breeds of chicks at a time, and it’s clear these little birds are well cared for. Our phones took more than a few pecks.
When these birds are mature, Cacklebean will select the very best layers to join their flock, and then rehome the other chickens to their trusted partner farms or local hen-owners.
The Leading Ladies
On to the real heroes of the story – the adult birds laying our eggs.
The hens have space to roam around outside and a large, traditional hen house to roost in, with plenty of perch space and a large scratch area. It’s clear, even to us amateurs, that these birds are happy and thriving.
The hens display none of the indicators of stress that you’d look out for – like feather loss or anxious pecking each other. The richness and naturalness of their diet shows in their yellow legs and full beaks – no beak clipping on this farm!
We learned that chickens, much like humans, can be affected by the weather. Weather can affect their feelings and how they lay – so Team Cacklebean go out of their way to keep the ladies comfortable. It may mean letting them stay out in the rain to peck for worms, keeping them cool with shady trampolines and canopies during a hot summer, or leaving the radio on in the sheds and bringing in Christmas trees for them to perch on over the festive months.
The green fields they roam in during the day are sown with natural herbs for the hens to nibble. They live in smaller than usual flocks – the combination of space and smaller numbers help to reduce stress, resulting in happier, healthier hens and the best quality eggs.
All the eggs are collected from the hen house and then packed by hand, with as many as five people packing eggs into boxes at the same time.
The farm is immaculately clean, a product of Paddy’s time working in big industry, where standards are high and farms are tidy and orderly.
While the chickens have always been free-range, for a long time their farmers were cooped up…
Perched at the back of one field is a tiny caravan, a testament to where the farm began. “We lived in that thing for a year and a half,” Steph told us, laughing. “It was a stressful couple of years, but all our attention was on building up the farm and caring for the animals.”
The couple then moved into a mobile home for seven years, which Steph described as “total luxury” after the caravan – and then finally their finished farmhouse.
“We’ve grown slowly and steadily,” Paddy explained, over a cup of tea around the kitchen table. “We could have taken a big contract with a supermarket and bought up a load of farms or flocks – but that’s not what we’re about. We’re farming responsibly – and that takes time.”
No trip to a farm would be complete without a quick hop onto a tractor, and the chance to scratch the ears of a few farm dogs.
We got to spot our ramen bars on the map of all the Cacklebean stockists – but most importantly, we got to feed apples to Hamish the Highland Cow.
Before we got back in the wagon, our Head of Ramen explained why these ethical farming practices are so important.
“We’re getting bigger eggs, with much richer yolks,” Fran explained. “Our broths pack big flavour, whether it’s the heat in our Pork Pork Chilli or an egg added to our deep Mushroom ramen – you want that yolk to stand up to everything else going on in the bowl.”
Like Cacklebean – we hate waste when it comes to eggs. That’s why any eggs that break, don’t slice perfectly or can’t be served in a ramen – but are still perfectly delicious – make their way into our Broken Egg Buns.
“The Broken Egg Bun is based on the classic Japanese Tamago Sando. It’s our way of ensuring we’re not throwing away anything we don’t have to – and it tastes ****ing great.”
What next for the birds?
Before we spend a week individually naming chickens after rock ‘n’ roll icons (who doesn’t want an egg laid by Bird Jovi or Hen-dricks), we’re looking at even more ways to work with Cacklebean.
As our flock continues to grow and mature, the eggs will get even richer and more delicious.