A FARMER has unveiled plans for a new free range egg-laying chicken house to ensure the enterprise passes on to the next generation.

Mark Pope believes diversifying will help ensure the future of Staple Farm, on the edge of Staple Fitzpaine near Taunton.

Under his proposals, a new building on the 168-acre agricultural land would house up to 32,000 hens.

He has applied to Somerset West and Taunton Council for planning permission for the scheme.

If granted, as well as housing the hens, the building would feature associated egg collection and packing facilities and feed bins.

Nest boxes would be accessible from the perches and would be adjacent to an egg collection conveyor.

Hens would lay their eggs in the boxes and the eggs would then roll onto the conveyor and travel along to the packing area.

A feeding system in the building would automatically operate three times a day, while water would be supplied by bell drinkers.

Time switches would ensure the birds had 14 hours of daylight a day.

Pop holes on the sides of the buildings would allow the hens to access a 40-acre range area outside between 8am and 9pm or dusk daily.

The hens would be secure in the building at night.

Strict welfare measures would be in place, with the building, flooring and drains, the livestock area and drinkers inspected regularly.

An expert has looked into the impact of the enterprise on ammonia concentrations and nitrogen deposition rates, as well as odour issues, concluding that levels would be within the Environment Agency's acceptable levels.