My Week: Tamara Payne talks to Gerry McHugh
Gerry McHugh is the third generation of his family to run Glenborin Eggs outside Donegal town. Until now the farm has been supplying hotels, restaurants and shops across Donegal.
However, as coronavirus gripped the country last week, the company launched its first egg vending machine, allowing it to sell directly to people.
"We launched our egg vending machine this week. It's something that I've been working on for quite a while now but given the current situation I speeded things up a little and launched it sooner than originally anticipated," says Gerry.
Gerry's machine is the first of its kind in Donegal.
"I wanted people to be able to buy our eggs directly from us as well as in the shops so I did some research and found a company in Louth who make these types of machines. They designed it for me," he says.
"Seeing as going shopping is not that easy at the moment, I realised that the vending machine could be very useful for many people right now.
"The filling station we have located the vending machine at is just three kilometres from our farm, which is handy for refills."
The machine works by dispatching a tray of 30 eggs when €5 is inserted. When it is running low, Gerry gets a text to notify him that a refill is due.
The farm, which his grandfather began egg farming on in 1964, has passed down through the generations since, and Gerry took it over six years ago.
Today, it consists of free-range and barn hens which have five acres of ground to roam and forage.
The hens are fed a prescribed meal which Gerry sources from a Monaghan-based feed company.
"We have a small-scale farm and we do everything here ourselves, as a family," says Gerry.
Gerry's wife Linda looks after the books and office work, while their son Daniel takes care of packing the eggs and helps Gerry with the deliveries.
"Everything is done on the farm, we produce the eggs and we have our own packer which packs eight eggs per second," says Gerry.
Delivering his product to the various locations throughout Donegal takes up most of the week for Gerry.
"It takes us almost the entire week to supply the eggs to the various shops, restaurants and hotels. We supply every town in some way, from Moville to Glencolmcille, so we are quite busy. Donegal is a big county."
Gerry says the disturbed weather over the last few months has made farm life harder than usual.
"We've had a lot of weather warnings this past winter and during these times it's in the interest of the hens' health and safety to keep them indoors in the barn until the bad weather passes," he says.
"This adds to the farm work as there is more cleaning out and monitoring required. The high levels of rain mean that the ground gets saturated quickly too, which isn't ideal for the hens."
Protecting the hens has always been one of Gerry's biggest challenges.
"Keeping the hens safe from vultures such as foxes, mink and buzzards can be difficult, especially as they are free range so they roam freely most of the time. It means we have to keep a constant watch over them," he says.
Gerry hopes his new venture will be a success as the demand for eggs has actually increased and he hopes to set up more vending machines around the county.
"We just got the machine installed last Tuesday, it had to be wired up and I also had to get a little wooden shed made for it as a shelter, so it took up most of our week.
"Things have been slow so far but as it gains more recognition we are hoping that it will prove to be a good investment."