Read: Irish Foodie | Eggs are essential
First published in Irish Foodie, Spring 2022.
Wrapped up in beautiful, oval, little packages, eggs are the workhorse of the kitchen. Released from their self contained shell, they can be used as two very separate ingredients: egg whites magically turn into meringues, they rise soufflés and ensure that chocolate mousse doesn’t get too cloying, while the yokes enrich custards and ice creams, hold mayo together and lemons and butter into a dreamy citrus spread. Whole eggs are beaten into cakes and batters, kneaded into pasta dough, or boiled, poached, scrambled, baked and turned into a meal. But, despite many delicious uses – and the fact that they’re a nutritious powerhouse – eggs are often undervalued.
Kylie Magner of Magner’s Farm in Tipperary is working on changing this. An Australian, married to an Irishman, she, her husband Billy and their four children established Magner’s Farm in 2017. Having grown up on a mixed farm and worked in marketing, Kylie came to the business of hens and eggs with a fresh perspective. She uses social media (@MagnersFarm across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) to communicate how their organic, pasture range eggs are produced. “I love telling our story and explaining what we do,” explains Kylie. “It’s so transparent and just what anyone who walks through the gate at any time during the day can see, not something that we concoct for social media. Our biggest challenge as farmers is to communicate the care and passion that goes into looking after our animals. In this digital age, with your iPhone in your back pocket, you can literally bring people on the journey of your daily life, showing how we manage hens and look after them.” It’s how Kylie differentiates her eggs from all the other eggs sitting on a shelf at the supermarket. “We’re lucky to have the digital platform. It’s not a way of advertising, it’s a way of education – and that goes both ways. The interaction with other people becomes a conversation and really interesting things come back.”
Videos and pictures show these happy hens at work, pecking, digging and socialising in the fields. “For us the focus is on high welfare for the hens, letting them live as natural a life as possible. We keep our hens for twice as long as commercial producers, 24 rather than 12 months,” says Kylie. Certified by the Irish Organic Association, the Magners practice regenerative agriculture on the farm. With pigs, cattle and sheep all integrated into their farming system, this contributes to building healthy soil which, in turn, produces high quality food. It’s a long term view of farming where “the nutritional density of the egg is really important – we’re really just scratching the surface, learning about soil health and fertility and how this impacts on what we put into our bodies.”
What many people don’t realise is that eggs are also seasonal: “In the wintertime, with shorter and colder days, they don’t lay as much,” Kylie notes. “By giving them some down time, it extends their life and they can put more into their eggs when they do start laying.” As any backyard hen keepers know, getting that first egg of the spring – there is a reason, after all, that Easter is associated with eggs – is something very special.
“There really is nothing like an egg from a hen that is free to forage, coming across lots of different things in soil so that their diet is full of worms and bugs and things like that,” says Kylie. Rich and creamy in flavour, these are eggs that are worth making the star of your meal. The Magners sell their eggs direct from the farm gate, via Neighbourfood, at markets and in selected shops like Lotts & Co and Damien Grey’s BhonnSpace in Dublin, Cahir’s The Apple Farm and Dook’s Fine Foods in Fethard. Their nationwide mail order service is also very popular. “It’s a bit of a challenge but we teamed up with Woolcool, a wool based insulation company that produces recyclable packaging, and now we can post eggs all around the country.”
They also supply restaurants which, as Kylie points out, caused a problem two years ago when they lost all their hospitality clients overnight. “It ebbs and flows like that but you have to try and keep believing in what you do. Now we don’t go looking for new customers, they come looking for us. I say bring your team to the farm, we want to show you that we are the real deal.” It’s their ethos – and the flavour of those eggs – that makes all the difference. Things are back on track now with regular deliveries to stalwarts Farmhouse Café on the Long Mile Road (“where we can pick up their sourdough”), workplace catering company Gather & Gather at Airfield and Dublin’s Perfect Day Café, a spot that buys a van-load of eggs a week. “We have a great relationship with people who are buying our product. Chefs tell me that they can poach our eggs so easily, that they never have to waste an egg. I never knew that was a thing! It’s great feedback for us.”
“I think the best compliment that we get is when people tell me “that’s what eggs used to taste like,”” says Kylie. “They love the fact that it tastes like an egg.” Ethically produced, nutritionally dense and simply delicious, it’s worth spending that little bit extra on Magner’s Farm eggs to get something that’s really worth cracking.
We bought four of Kylie’s retired hens in 2020, at the start of the first lockdown, and they became our much-loved pandemic pets, laying an egg each a day – at least until our local fox decided otherwise. Read about them here: Covid chooks, cake and catastrophising: a month of our new normal.
If you want to keep hens, and can avoid the foxes, I’d definitely recommend getting them from Magner’s Farm.