AN Ilkley trader's bid to save his farm has sparked a controversy over methods of egg production.

Peter Kitching, who sells eggs from The Hen Hut in Illkey car park two days a week will lose his home and business if a bid to build houses on his farm at Oak Bank, Wrose, Shipley, is given planning permission.

Mr Kitching, who comes to Ilkley twice a week to sell eggs, has been asking his customers to help by signing a petition of objection to the planning application. But some Ilkley residents have written to the Gazette with concerns about the way his 3,000 battery chickens are kept.

One reader, Audrey Hargreaves, of Addingham, wrote: "I find it difficult to understand why shoppers should still buy battery eggs knowing, as they must, the conditions that battery hens have to endure."

And Pauline Allon, of Ben Rhydding, said: "Although The Hen Hut, with its rustic appearance, may give the impression to shoppers that the hens which lay the eggs are free to roam in a traditional farm setting, I believe that this could not be further from the truth."

But Mr Kitching defended his production methods and suggested that people who objected lacked a knowledge of poultry farming.

"There is no cruelty involved," said Mr Kitching.

He said that his chickens were better looked after than free range chickens roaming free. He said: "Free range is the most filthy and cruel way of keeping chickens there is.

"Big factory farms with thousands of chickens can sell them as free range but only about 200 ever go outside, the rest stay inside."

Mr Kitching said that his birds were kept in 21-inch square cages with perches to stand on. "The EU passes rules and regulations which have to be up to standard - mine are more than EU standard.

"If you feed them on good food you get nice tasty eggs."

As for the protesters, Mr Kitching said: "I don't usually take any notice of these people - they have been brainwashed by TV.

Mr Kitching said that in the 1950s when nearly all chickens were free range, land in Britain had become contaminated with worms and other chicken parasites, a problem which battery production solved. But with the increasing popularity of free range eggs, land was becoming infected again.

"Hens are picking worms up and getting infected - people think free range are better, but they are not," said Mr Kitching.

Allegations have also been made that shoppers in Ilkley were unaware of how Mr Kitching's eggs have been produced. But one customer at the Hen Hut, Valerie Earley, of Heber's Mount, said she knew that they were battery produced.

She said: "The way Peter runs his business it would not matter really. I was aware of the way these were farmed but the proof is in the eating. The yolks are lovely, rich and yellow."