FREE-RANGE egg producer William Maughan is happy in his work – his 9,000 hens seem pretty happy, too.

They are laying about 8,400 eggs a day.

Mr Maughan has been a free-range egg producer for 12 years and became a Happy Egg Company supplier three years ago.

“It was a new brand at the time with an ethos on animal welfare and raising standards.

We thought it was a good idea and got involved.”

As well as having plenty of green pasture to roam and forage, each Happy Egg farm has a range of features to enhance the bird’s natural surroundings – from perching platforms and climbing frames to sandpits and brashings – and plenty of trees for cover and shade.

The 9,000 hens at Morton Tinmouth, near Darlington, are housed in one large shed and are divided into three colonies.

They spend the night indoors, but are free to roam outdoors during the day.

“The hens go out at 9am and come back in of their own accord when it gets dark,” said Mr Maughan, who is married with two children.

“The best part of my job is letting the hens out in the morning. I love watching how excited they are as they rush out onto the range.”

The shed has feeders and drinkers on top of slats and an area where there are shavings, so the hens can have a dust bath.

Nest boxes are provided down the centre of the shed where the hens go for privacy to lay their eggs.

The nest box floors are covered in synthetic turf and are on a slight gradient. The eggs roll onto a conveyor belt, which takes them through to the packing machine. This gently drops six at a time into a tray where they are stamped with the farm’s unique number, so that each egg is fully traceable back to the farm.

The hens lay between 6.30am and 10am and eggs are collected seven days a week. They are collected from the farm every other day and taken to a large packer where each egg is weighed, tested for hairline cracks, and stamped again with the farm number, best before date and the Lion brand, before distribution.

The hens arrive at the farm at 16 weeks and go as production drops off at 72 weeks. The empty shed and every item of equipment is then thoroughly cleansed ready for the next hens.

The hens are Bovan Browns, which have a good reputation for being hardy for free-range production, producing brown eggs with a good-quality shell.

Animal health and welfare is top priority and the farm is audited by a Happy Egg Company fieldsman each month to ensure their own standards and those of RSPCA Freedom Foods are not just met, but exceeded.

Audits are also made by RSPCA Freedom Foods and the British Lion brand.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agency (AHVLA) do spot inspections and retailers can also do their own.

But Mr Maughan does not mind such intense scrutiny.

“It is protecting us, as well as the consumer who can be confident in us. It is good to be open, we have nothing to hide and are proud of what we do, it is all about sharing confidence.”

Mr Maughan is a member of the eight-strong committee of the Happy Egg Guild who meet regularly to swap ideas and plan training for the company’s suppliers.

He farms with his father, David, and uncle, Peter Maughan, who has 7,400 Happy Egg hens at nearby Denton.

Tenants of the Raby Estate, they also operate a 400-acre arable and 250-cattle fattening enterprise.