Friday, February 26, 2010

Snake bite a bit of a worry

We had a flury of activity on the farm on Wednesday night when Anne was bitten on the leg by a Tiger snake (probably) at around 9.30pm. It was dark as she went through one of the gates so she didn't see what bit her but we know that a large tiger snake hangs around that area.
She went into the grading room and rang me (because I wasn't on the farm). It took me about 10 minutes to get there and when I saw the two puncture wounds, we put on a tight bandage, bundled her into her car, rang 000 and headed for Dandenong Hospital.  It would have taken too long for an ambulance to get here so I thought it would be far quicker to take her myself.
The ambulance phone operator rang ahead to make sure Dandenong Hospital had anti-venene on hand. At 120 - 130kmh it took almost an hour to get there and she was wheeled into the emergency room straight away.
After a couple of hours when everything seemed to be stable and the blood tests were looking good. I went back to the farm to check on the dogs etc as we had left everything in a bit of hurry. I also emailed a couple of people who I was supposed to be meeting later in the morning. Then back to the hospital at about 5am by which time they were just about ready to kick her out.
We arrived back home around 7am.
I must say the staff in the emergency department at Dandenong were terrific!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kangaroo Apple for shade and protection

Kangaroo Apples are among the plants we are encouraging in the range areas for our hens. They grow quickly and can provide shade and protection – as well as a food source for the birds.

The green fruits gradually turn orange and then red when ripe and the hens love them.

Hopefully by next summer all our paddocks will have sizeable stands of these shrubs which grow to about 3 metres tall and spread about 4 metres.

The fruits should also help to keep yolk colour looking good during dry  summers.
As you can see, a Kangaroo Apple covers quite an area and it only takes a few months to give the birds protection. And one of the great things is that when the hens eat the fruits, they pass the seeds out in their manure and hundreds of new plants pop up  - how's that for sustainability!

Purslane - better than colouring additives

We have been doing everything we can to try to maintain yolk colour in our eggs – everything that is short of putting colouring additives in the chook food.

It's always difficult at this time of year when everything is so dry and there is little green in the paddocks.

We are feeding as much green leafy stuff as we can from the veggie garden and encouraging purslane in the pasture.

The plant purslane is regarded by most people as a weed but it is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which everyone seems to want in their diet these days. Some reports say that purslane is one of the most abundant vegetable sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids such as linoleic acid and palmitic acid have also been identified in purslane seeds.

Purslane is a rich source of vitamins, with vitamins A, B, C, and E contained within the plant. Purslane is high in carotenoid content, including Beta-Carotene. Beta Carotene is one of the natural substances which helps to generate deep coloured yolks. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, folate, and lithium are also found in the plant.

For all those reasons we are trying to grow as much purslane as we can because we reckon it's a much better bet than putting colouring additives in the feed – which is the choice made by virtually all other egg producers. Many of the colouring additives used by egg producers are synthetic but even the one's processed from things like capsicum and marigold can have adverse effects on people with allergies.We sometimes hear people saying that they are allergic to eggs - well it's probably not the eggs they are allergic to it's more likely the additives put in the chook food for cosmetic reasons.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Prom Country Farmers' Market

Freeranger Eggs will be at the Prom Country Farmers' Market in Foster for the first time this Saturday. The usual egg seller there has advised that she cannot attend and as we have plenty of eggs, we are happy to fill in.
The weeks immediately following the January holidays nearly always see us with a surplus of eggs as we have geared up production to try to cope with the demand from tourists - but once they have gone home we still have that high level of daily production.
We are selling off a flock to people who want hens for their backyards but it takes a few weeks to get back down to the numbers needed to match demand.
We will be offering eggs on trays as well as cartons - and of course we will have our garlic.

First Pakenham Rotary Farmers' Market went well

Well the first Farmers' Market run by Pakenham Rotary Club went pretty well despite a change to the venue which caused confusion for customers.
As a first effort it was encouraging and we will stick with it to see how things progress. Patronage will need to at least double for it to be considered successful.
One of the big poblems it faces (and the reason for the decline of the market when it was previously held at Pakenham Racecourse) is the sheer number of so-called farmers' markets which have been springing up everywhere.
It if it is a genuine farmers' market with only farm-based stallholders and products it is likely to attract a  loyal number of customers looking for quality food. But if it's just another market selling anything and everything there will be nothing to set it apart.
Rotary has some tight guidelines for the market which make it look promising and they appear to be making an attempt to get it rolling as a genuine farmers' market - let's hope they go for accreditation with the Victorian Farmers' Markets Association.

Friday, February 12, 2010

First Pakenham Farmers' Market at new venue

All stallholders have their fingers crossed that the Pakenham Farmers' Market will work on Saturday at it's new temporary venue - the Pakenham Football Club ground on the highway.
Apparently there was an objection from a neighbour to the proposed venue, behind the Cardinia Cultural Centre, and until that is sorted out the maket had to look for a new temporary home.
Most of the stallholders were not convinced that the Cultural Centre site was a good idea anyway and it has been a toss up to decide whether to stick with the market (which has been slowly dying at the Pakenham Racecourse for two years or so) or pull the plug and find a more productive market.
We will stick with it for a bit longer but patronage needs to improve for it to be viable. The Rotary Cub of Pakenham has taken over running the market, but there has been a distinct lack of communication between Rotary and stallholders and there appears to have been very little promotion of the new venue. The danger is that no-one will know the market is on and if there are even less customers than normal, many stallholders are unlikely to return.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Eggs healthier from hens on pasture

Here's a chart prepared by the US magazine, Mother Earth News. It was drawn up to illustrate some of the essential differences in nutritional qualities between eggs from hens raised on pasture and those from hens in cages.
Full details are at

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Why does yolk colour vary?

It's that time of year again when people start to complain that yolks are pale instead of the usual vibrant deep yellow or almost orange.
The reason of course is the lack of green feed and the carotene it contains to add the colouring intensity. On all cage egg farms and most 'free range' egg farms, the hens are fed a diet containing colouring additives to keep yolk colour consistent throughout the year.
Here, at Freeranger Eggs, we use no colouring additives and consequently yolk colour varies with the seasons. We feed out some lucerne and use greens from the veggie garden when the pasture has died off, but it's obviously not enough. The eggs taste the same and have the same nutritional value - they are just pale when compared with those laid at times of the year when there is plenty of green feed about.
Those buyers who want consistent yolk colours and who have no problems with eating chemical-laden food should trot along to the supermarket or buy from other producers who use coluring additives as a matter of course.

How to grow garlic

We are getting heaps of enquiries from customers about how to grow garlic - so here's some basic info that works for us.
A garlic bulb is made up of many individual cloves (maybe as many as 15 or 20) and the garlic plants are grown from the individual cloves.

Garlic needs a garden site that gets plenty of sun and seems to grow best in light, sandy soils. They need plenty of manure dug into the soil before planting and they should be well watered in the early stages. But don't waterlog the soil because the plants will rot. Each clove should be planted upright, about 2.5 cm under the surface and about 10 cm apart, in rows at least 45 cm apart.

It has been traditional to plant garlic on the shortest day of the year but this year we will start planting towards the end of February and keep going into April.

Garlic is plant friendly and grows well in a flower and vegetable garden. It's great co-planting with many others and it does seem to help with pest control.

It will take six months for the garlic to mature and you will need to keep weeds under control to maximise your crop. We use no chemicals so hand weeding is the way to go.

Harvesting the crop

As your garlic matures, the leaves brown-off then fall over. This is the indication that it's time to harvest the crop. If you harvest too early the cloves will be small, too late and the bulb will split.

After picking, hang your garlic up to dry then gently brush off any dirt. Then enjoy the delicious results of growing your own garlic in your own garden.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A break from the farm

I've just had a couple of days away from the farm to help my brother Dave celebrate his 70th birthday in Albany, Western Australia. I headed over there on Thursday night and was back early Sunday morning - so Anne had to do the Churchill Island Farmers' Market, and son Bryan helped collect eggs and made sure that the chooks had enough food and water while I was away.
It was an excellent trip - a surprise birthday dinner at the Albany Sailing Club organised by Dave and Sue's daughter, Jennifer. It was great to see the stunned look on Dave's face when he walked in and saw us all there. Great job Jenni.
We had to stay out of Albany on the Friday in case we bumped into Dave in the town, so we went to Denmark which is a tremendous little place just a few kilometres along the coast.
But apart from the birthday dinner, the highlight of the trip was discovering a distillery. The Great Southern Distilling Company in Albany which makes single malt whiskies. It's very much a boutique business (much like our eggs) as usually there are only a few hundred bottles of each batch. I bought bottle 242 of the 61% proof M23 Limeburners single malt. What a drop!!
Have a look at