An Egg Story

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Ever wondered what kind of eggs we eat in Kashmir? A poultry specialist’s quest to find out the same led to creation of a world class farm in an orchard. Aakash Hassan reports how his idea can change the future of poultry business in Kashmir

Under the hillock amid green apple orchards an unusual scene prevails. In the midst of the plantation and a feet high grass, hundreds of hens are busy feeding in the open, peeking at everything green that is around.

A small well and two-storey building rests in the corner of a two acres orchard, where a poultry farm is set strictly on the European standards. This free range farm is situated in Alastaing, in the outskirts of Srinagar.

In November 2016, Dr Altaf Gilani, a poultry expert, decided to start a world class farm, but the problem was to find a like minded expert to shape it into reality. Then he found Asif Amin Tibet Baqal, a young man who had considerable experience in advertisement industry in India and abroad.

Once the idea started taking shape, Dr Gilani went to Pune and brought American breed of chickens, Rhode Island, to valley.

After spending harsh winter days inside the farm these birds were let free in the orchard. In May, Dr Gilani says they started laying eggs.

My plan begun, Dr Gilani says, when a minister asked him, “What legacy would you leave behind as a doctor?”

An alumnus of SKUAST Kashmir, Dr Gilani, a veterinary doctor, joined department of Animal Husbandry  in 1994. Interestingly, he served his entire time at SKUAST in the poultry wing. It was there Dr Gilani came up with a plan to start a high-end poultry farm.

As a result he helped setting up a farm on European standards of free range grazing, which requires one acre land for five hundred birds. Besides, there must be twenty egg nests for every hundred bird. “We have followed every rule as per European standards,” says Dr Gilani.

Unlike traditional farms Dr Gilani’s birds feed on natural grass that grows in his orchard cum farm.

“The grass available in Kashmir is similar to what is found in Europe and American terrains. It is sufficient for a bird’s growth as it contains everything.”

Dr Gilani says he is simply revisiting old poultry practices where chickens were reared in our backyards.

Ask him what was the idea behind this high-end poultry venture and he is quick to say, “The kind of eggs we eat here are of substandard quality. It worried me a lot.”

Dr Gilani claims most of the eggs that come to Kashmir are infectious and lack proper nutritious value.

“The chicken breeds reared in India are from America and Europe, both temperate regions. But ironically the same are reared in tropical  areas in Indian plains,” said Dr Gilani. “Large numbers of birds die due to heat stroke and rest are kept in deplorable condition. So it is very obvious the eggs they lay would not be so nutritious.”

However this is not the only concern that Dr Gilani has, “After the eggs are laid they are transported in very ordinary vehicles and it takes around four weeks to reach it to the consumer.”

The transportation time exceeds the original shelf life of these eggs, thus making them hazardous for use. “These are mostly stale when they reach our table,” he claims.

That is why Dr Gilani, set the poultry farm on Europeans standard, as Kashmir has similar geo-climatic conditions.

“Kashmir is heaven for poultry birds as they share genes with Europe of American birds,” said Dr Gilani. “We should have produced poultry on a mass scale like Punjab and Haryana.”

The way birds are kept at Dr Gilani’s farm, they exhibit their natural behaviuors, making them healthier.

“For instance the birds take dusk bath, sunbath, scratc soil. These are very normal things that gives them stress free environment,” Dr Gilani.

At present the farm has 1200 hens laying around 900 eggs a day. Named as FREE HENS; an acronym for Free Range Eggs Eco-System, the eggs are produced in the market are labeled as FRESH (Free-Range Eggs Special Harvest) Eggs.

Dr Gilani claims that Free Hens eggs have 33 percent less Cholesterol, 25 percent less Saturated Fat, 3 times more Vitamin E, 2 times more Omega-3 fatty acids, 7 times more beta carotene, and 40 times more Vitamin than the normal egg available in the market.

“These eggs come in specially designed packing,” said Asif Amin, who handling the publicity of Free Hens. “The package is cubical carton boxes in which six eggs are fixed.”

However Dr Gilani considers it just a first step towards a large dream. “I want to build a chain of farms on the same standards. We can be self sufficient in egg production.”

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