By Debbie James

A compulsory training standard for Lion Code egg producers, pullet rearers and hatcheries is gaining momentum in Wales.

Until now, it has been possible to set up as a free range egg producer as long as finances allowed and the required land area was available.

This was a concern given the rapid growth in the number of family farms diversifying into free range egg production because it was recognised that formal training was less likely in these owner-operator businesses than in bigger, colony egg sites.

Egg industry consultant Jeff Vergerson, who leads the Lion Training Passport working group, says colony sites operated with 20-30 staff and employees were trained up to the level needed to operate.

“On a family farm where there might be two or three workers including family members this wasn’t always happening,’’ says Mr Vergerson.

Poultry meat producers have had their own passport scheme for the last 12 years and, as an industry, egg producers were coming under pressure from retailers to introduce something similar.

And so, to create a formal training standard, the Lion Training Passport scheme was established by an industry-led working group of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), Lantra and Poultec Training.

“This scheme is designed to improve the overall ability of egg farmers and pullet rearers to manage their units better, with an emphasis on health and welfare and food safety,’’ says Mr Vergerson.

The scheme applies to egg laying farms, pullet rearing units and pullet hatcheries.

Everyone who works in those businesses falls under the scheme, including the owner-managers.

Every individual must be registered to create their own Lion Training Passport.

The minimum training needed is based on an individual’s role on the farm but everyone must complete induction, biosecurity and food safety courses.

The induction is there to inform new staff of operational and procedural requirements.

This will vary between farms and for existing staff a sign-off, showing that this has been completed, is considered sufficient.

Details of which training courses must be completed are given at registration.

The training requirement changes if an individual’s role alters – additional courses must be completed when this happens.

Many of the courses are aimed at competence around the health and welfare of poultry and there is good reason for this.

As the Welsh government shapes its new support policies for agriculture, animal welfare will almost certainly be included.

Every passport holder must, as a minimum, complete one course a year until they are fully compliant. Most courses cover an individual for five years.

Lion Training Passports are portable so an individual’s training record follows them. It means that employers don’t need to incur the cost of retraining in the subjects that new staff are already trained in.

External providers have been approved by the scheme’s administrator, Poultec Training, which developed and manages the Poultry Passport for the poultry meat sector, and include vets and dedicated training companies.

But an organisation can appoint its own tutors if Poultec agrees that the course meets the requirements set out in the scheme.

And this is happening – some egg packers have already trained their own field teams to deliver basic training.

Most of the courses, apart from first aid, can be a tutor-led session delivered virtually to save on time and travelling, but as Covid-19 restrictions ease there will be opportunities for face-to-face delivery if that is the preference.

“The courses can usually be delivered to fit around the working day on the farm, for instance if the morning is a busy time for collecting eggs, the course could be in the afternoon,’’ says Mr Vergerson.

There is an annual registration fee per person of £20, of which £10 goes to Lantra for the use of its database and software and £10 to Poultec to administer the scheme.

Course cost varies, depending on subject and provider – for instance an emergency first aid at work accredited course, which must be attended in person, can be £75 and is valid for three years.