New poultry diarist Julian, a self-confessed closet quiche maker, thinks he has solved the conundrum of eggy overload

Now that I’m a full-time smallholder I no longer benefit from an office full of customers for my surplus eggs. This is not a problem in the winter when the egg production tapers off as my wife, Emma, and I can generally use all the eggs ourselves or sell the odd half dozen to friends and neighbours, but now that spring is well and truly here we have an eggy overload.

There is no doubt that egg production took off when the weather warmed up. With 30 hens laying we are now collecting almost two dozen a day, with the expectation that this number will increase.

Now I like a boiled egg or two for breakfast on occasions, but not every day. Even if I was to manage a couple each day that would still leave a substantial surplus. I’ve even taken to making an egg flan each week which uses eight to 10 of the oval discs and provides a simple, quick to grab lunch option — home-made fast food. Even this hardly makes a dent in the mountain, though, plus I have heard that ‘real’ men don’t eat quiche and they certainly don’t bake them, which is an indication of how desperate we are to find a use for all the eggs.

The obvious solution is to sell at the gate.

Rose Cottage Smallholding is located down a private track that provides shared access to four other properties, but it’s a no through road. We don’t get any passing motorists, which is great for peace and quiet and quality of life, but not particularly useful if you are trying to flog eggs to passers-by.

There is, however, a public right of way along the track and we sit at the confluence of four footpaths. These paths tend to be used by local dog walkers and the woolly hat brigade as we’ve come to call them. The woolly hatters are serious walkers. They appear in groups, never alone, clad in arctic survival gear and bearing snow staves as they bravely wend their way up Shibden Valley to the local inn for afternoon tea. Surely some of these intrepid explorers would succumb to temptation and partake of an egg or six?

Not a chance.

I had a sign made last year proclaiming Free Range Eggs on one side and Fresh Duck Eggs on the other. This has hung off the corner of the garage since last April and in all that time we managed to sell three boxes of hens’ eggs and one of ducks’ and the duck eggs went to a parcel courier who was delivering my order of egg boxes of all things.

We tried advertising. Nothing extravagant. We put a notice up at the local equestrian/feed merchants where we offered point of lay hens and free range eggs with our contact number. We sold three birds and, more importantly, had an enquiry about a regular order of eggs. Problem solved we thought.

Mrs Brown Eggs, as we called her, wanted three dozen a week, every week. But she insisted that the eggs be brown. No white, blue, green or grey. They had to be brown and nothing we said could persuade her differently. We kept the brown eggs aside, depriving others of their multi-coloured selections. A deficiency that was soon commented on. Did the regular order make up for this? No. After the first week, Mrs Brown Eggs decided that we should deliver her eggs to her home some distance away and that was the end of that.

Mrs Brown Eggs wasn’t the only, er, demanding customer. We had The Haggler who never had the correct amount of money and would make an offer for the eggs. He only ever had 90p or 80p, never £1. Needless to say, he also never had any eggs, at least not from us. I don’t know if he managed to buy any from the local supermarket. I should imagine that they would take an equally dim view of him attempting to bargain at the checkout.

Then there was The Clean Freak. He complained that the eggs were a bit grubby and — how appalling — a bit of straw had stuck to one. He didn’t find my comment about training the hens to wipe their feet before using the nest box next time particularly amusing and so we lost another customer.

However, I think we’ll survive.

This year, with the loss of that office full of customers, Emma and I have had a rethink on the whole egg selling at the farm gate concept. I recalled that one of our three doorstep customers last year had said that they’d tried to buy our eggs a couple of times, but could never get an answer at the door. This was the problem. We aren’t a shop and can’t sit around the house all day on the off chance that a passer-by had a burning desire for half a dozen.

The solution needed to be a method by which people could serve themselves and leave payment without necessarily having to have any interaction with yours truly, meaning that I can carry on with whatever smallholding job I’m doing without any interruption. An honesty box seemed to be the way forward.

Presentation is key when trying to sell something for a reasonable amount. We’ve learnt this with our honey. Put the honey in proper honey jars with smart, professionally produced labels and people will be more inclined to buy and to pay the asking price. Shove it in a jam jar with a hand-written label and they don’t think its worth buying. Consumer society conditioning. Our honey tastes just as exquisite however it’s packaged, but somehow the hand-written jam jar approach isn’t what today’s consumer wants.

We have taken the same approach to the honesty box. I put together a display from a recycled fruit crate and some timber offcuts but painted a uniform country cream for that fresh, clean look. (I also just happened to have half a pot of paint left over from doing Emma’s shed last summer.) An improvement on the original rustic pig poo brown.

The clever part is the display. The eggs are on show — a parade of colours to entice the discerning customer, dog walker or woolly hatter. The Pick Your Own sign draws them in and the range of colours clinches the deal. The branded Rose Cottage egg boxes add the finishing touch. The concept is laughingly simple — or so I thought. We have a tray of 36 eggs on display, six by six. You choose the eggs you want, ‘pick your own’, pop them in an egg box and put the cash in the money box.

There was a knock on the kitchen window and an old gent shouting: “I want to buy some eggs”.

Having explained the concept, boxed up his selection and taken the cash, understanding dawned. “It’s an honesty box. I thought they only had them in Cornwall.”

The display has been up for three months now and we are selling seven or eight dozen eggs each week. The honesty box has arrived in West Yorkshire — and long may it last.

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