Thursday, April 29, 2010

First eggs from the new pullets

Our new Isa Brown pullets laid their first two eggs today so the whole flock should be in production within a couple of weeks - just in time to have plenty of pullets eggs in ten packs for the Pakenham Farmers' Market.
With the onset of cooler weather, egg production from the older flocks is slowing a bit so we will need the new girls to keep up supplies, especially as we have taken on a new restaurant on Phillip Island taking around 60 dozen eggs each week.
We are still able to meet our regular demand but without the new flock things would probably be difficult in the next month or so.

Monday, April 26, 2010

'Fuel reduction' burn looks pretty good

I must say that I have been impressed by the 'fuel reduction' burn just conducted in part of the Grantville Flora and Fauna  Reserve (even though I have great doubts that these burns reduce the risk of wildfires).
It appeared to have been reasonably 'cool' and well targetted which would have allowed many small reptiles and mammals to escape.
The burn was close to our farm but was conducted as an 'asset protection' measure alongside an old and inappropriate subdivision known as the Adams Estate. It would be a better long term outcome for the State Government to buy-out the people who shouldn't be there anyway. It remains to be seen how much future  'protection' they will enjoy.
 Unfortunately quite a few of the families living there have trail bikes and they seem to have no understanding of their responsibilities to the community. There's nothing wrong with motor bikes - we have three on the farm - the only problem is their thoughtless use in the bush. It makes my blood run cold (or hot) when I hear the turkeys revving their bikes through the reserve with hot exhausts and sparks flying on fire ban days. They just don't get the risks, and it's not only kids. There are many 'mature' riders who are oblivious to any potential problems they are creating with wildfires and their own financial liability. Most of the riders here may be under-age children but their parents don't seem to realise they will have to foot the bills for damage caused by their precious offspring - and they could lose everything as a result!!
If you want to see more about the values of our bushland, have a look at http://bassbush.htmlplanet.com/
I'll try to get some photos of the results of the recent burn up on that site.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Echidna in the veggie patch

An Echidna came to visit our veggie garden yesterday. He (or she) took great delight in rooting around the tomatoes and chillies in a search for ants. They are interesting creatures and it's great that they are still around.

We adopted the echidna years ago as the symbol for Friends of Bass Valley Bush because it was easily recognisable but was something that wasn't likely to be around for too much longer as most of the native vegetation in the region was in the process of being cleared.
The clearing is still going on in the name of  'progress' but at least there is still enough around for this little critter to survive a bit longer.
Details about Friends of Bass Valley Bush and its activities can be found at http://bassbush.htmlplanet.com/

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Busy weekend coming up

We will have a couple of busy days this weekend with two Farmers' Markets - Churchill Island on Saturday and Venus Bay on Sunday. Both should be pretty good markets as it's the Anzac weekend.

With a bit of luck we should have 200 dozen eggs available as the hens are still laying well even though we have been sellling off some of the oldest flock to people who want hens for their backyards and the new pullets haven't started yet.
It's great to have enough eggs to fill all our orders without having to rush around   grabbing eggs as soon as they are laid.
In the past we've often had to delay a delivery run while the chooks laid enough eggs to meet the day's orders.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Making Pasta - it's easy!

At some of the farmers' markets we attend there are always a few customers asking us how to make pasta. We generally have a few recipe sheets available but here is our main recipe which makes excellent pasta without a machine. If you have a pasta machine, you won't need a rolling pin!

Home made Egg Pasta (without a pasta machine)

500g plain flour (durum wheat flour works best)
5 large freeranger eggs or 10 pullets eggs

A rule of thumb is to use 1 egg to every 100g of flour. Pour the flour onto the bench so that it forms a mound. Make a large hollow in the centre and break in the eggs. Use a fork to whisk the eggs until combined then start drawing in some of the flour.

With your hands, bring the mass together and start kneading. It's easier to knead a little more flour into a sticky dough than adding liquid to a dough that is too dry. Continue to knead until the dough is smooth and firm then allow it to relax for 30 minutes.

Now knead for five minutes, roll on a floured surface to ⅛ inch thick or thinner if preferred. Sprinkle more flour to dust it then cut into strips or squares if you want to make ravioli or filled shells. Meanwhile boil a big pot of salted water with a little olive oil in to keep the pasta from sticking. Toss the finished pasta into the pot and cook five minutes. It will rise to the surface when done.

If you want to dry the pasta rather than eat immediately, simply hang the strips on a drying rack then store in a jar once dry.
 
What could be easier! We occasionally buy pasta in packets but there really is no value in it and fresh always tastes so much better.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

New grading machine

As part of our program of continuous improvement, we have installed a new (well, second-hand) candler/grader.

We had an Ego-Matic from the 1950's and this one is also an Ego-Matic - but a later version. It came with its own table and is at a more ergonomically efficient height which hopefully will eliminate some of the back pain associated with standing there candling and grading eggs.

Most of you reading this will know what candling is - but for those who don't, it's passing the egg over a light to see any imperfections in the egg (cracks in the shell, bloodspots or a large air sack etc).The eggs are run down the ramp on the left hand side of the machine, over the light and then each egg is picked up by a moving bar. Cantilever weights then allow the egg to be deposited in the right chute, depending on its weight.

The new machine is quieter than the old version and is probably more accurate so once we are used to it, we shouldn't have to carry out as many checks with the electronic scales.

That will speed up our grading and packing process.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Infectious poultry disease spreading in Victoria

Several outbreaks of an infectious poultry disease known as Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT) have occurred in Victoria, some fairly close to us here in Gippsland.

ILT is a respiratory illness and the clinical signs are similar to those of more exotic diseases such as Avian Influenza or Newcastle Disease. So it's definitely a bit of a worry.

All our birds are vaccinated, but that doesn't make them totally immune. As an added precaution, we also have a strict biosecurity system on the farm to stop people who may have been in contact with chickens from going near our hens.

If it's only a minor case there will be a drop in egg production and some hens will tend to 'mope' around. But if it's more severe there will be coughing and gasping and some hens will die.

ILT is caused by a Herpes virus and readily spreads through a flock by contact with infected birds or people, clothing or equipment that has been in contact with infected birds which can carry the virus without showing signs.

Birds are vaccinated with a live vaccine, so they carry the disease and can infect any non-vaccinated birds. That's why people shouldn't mix vaccinated and non-vaccinated birds.

More details at http://new.dpi.vic.gov.au/about-us/news-and-events/news/media-releases/media-releases-from-ministers/dont-be-a-chicken-get-your-birds-snuffles-checked

Hopefully we will get through this outbreak period without a problem.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why do we have to chase 'growth'

I've had quite a few discussions in the past couple of weeks with customers at markets about the economy and when the next financial crunch will happen.The general consensus is that it is only a matter of time and there will be another meltdown - maybe next year or in five year's time - who knows.
But sometimes the conversation gets around to why there is such a need for continual growth, and is it sustainable?
The answer of course is NO! But few economists or politicians want to acknowledge that because their whole reason for being is economic growth.
But there is an alternative (it's just unlikely that it's going to happen until it's forced on us by an economic collapse that makes the recent world financial turmoil and the Depression of the 1930's look mild).
The theory of a Steady State Economy has been around for a while. There a piece on the Friends of Bass Valley Bush website at http://bassbush.htmlplanet.com/rich_text_4.html that's worth checking out if you're interested.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Unloading pallets of cartons just part of the chores

We had a delivery this week of two pallets of egg cartons and five pallets of carboard outer boxes (which each hold 15 dozen eggs. I unloaded them with the forks attached to my front end loader and put them in the shed out of the rain.
But that's just the start. They needed to go upstairs to the storage area. So 56 boxes of egg cartons (28 per pallet) have been lugged up the stairs and so far one pallet of outer boxes (400 of them) have now made it up there.
I don't know why people need to pay to go the gym for exercise - they can come here and I won't charge them a thing!
Hopefully some other egg farmers will buy a pallet or two of the outer boxes before I have to carry them up into storage.
There's nothing worse than running out of cartons and discovering there's a three week delay in getting new ones so we always buy reasonable quantities of cartons and boxes to ensure that we have plenty on hand when needed. Buying in bulk also gets us a better price and sales to other farms help to recoup some of the costs.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

New flock looking good and ready for action

Our latest flock of Isa Brown pullets arrived yesterday while I was at Pakenham Farmers' Market so Anne had to help with the unloading.
We had the shed ready for them, all cleaned out and moved to a new part of the front paddock which hasn't been used for chooks for at least eight months.
They are 16 weeks old and well grown. A couple have 'combed up' already so look like they will start laying this week. We often find that at this time of year, pullets will begin to lay at this age but later in the year they may not start until they are 18 or even 20 weeks old.
It means that we have to be careful with planning arrivals to ensure continuity of egg supplies - especially around peak holiday periods.
As I've said before Christmas/New Year is a particular nightmare because of the huge influx of holidaymakers on Phillip Island. And it's not just the island. Every holiday home and caravan park in the area is full to busting - San Remo, Coronet Bay, Corinella, Grantville etc.
Demand from shops and restaurants just goes though the roof and if we have a run of really hot weather around Christmas our production can drop signficantly.
That's when being a member of the Free Range Farmers Association really pays off - because if we have to, we can usually find another member farm with eggs to spare at that time of year (because most of their customers are down here). The rules of the Association mean that we can only buy-in eggs fom another accredited farm so our customers are sure the eggs really are 'free range'. 
This is the shed the new pullets are in. We hadn't let them out at this stage because the wind has been blowing hard all morning and the poor little chooks might get blown away. Their protection system is well in place - Berkley on the left and Ducati on the right. Not much can get past them.
The triangular sail on the shed is only used in summer for extra shade-I just haven't got around to taking it off yet

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Moving in the right direction at Pakenham

Todays' Pakenham Rotary Farmers' Market was a step in the right direction. I almost sold out of eggs and there were good sales of garlic and chillies (which help to pay the stall fees).
It was good enough to encourage me to stay there - but as Anne pointed out that may be a false sense of security and the next 12 months may be cr*p.
We had a few returning customers from the old venue for the market at the Pakenham Racecourse - because they had no idea where the market had gone! I don't know why the Rotary Club of Pakenham expects stall fees if they are not going to promote the market properly.
Some stallholders have already left because they have not been doing enough business - and one would think that Rotary people would understand that stallholders are trying to run a business and need to make a profit.
One of the stallholders who left was apparently told that because of the size of his stall he may have to pay two site fees - his response was "I'm not making enough to justify one site fee so I'm not paying two." So he's not! Instead today he was at a market where the stall fee was twice as much but he sold eight times more product.
As long as our sales justify the time spent going to Pakenham we will stick with it but I have heaps of work to do on the farm every day - and it has to get better.
I wasn't on the farm for the delivery of our new flock of chooks today but I'll post pictures of the new girls tomorrow.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

007 retires

No not James Bond - Phil Westwood the Egg Corp Assured Auditor with the 007 prefix.
I've been part of the audit team set up by the Australian Egg Corporation since the inception of the National Egg Quality Assurance Program. But now I will spend more time on the farm and consulting on environmental issues.
The ECA program has evolved over the years and it now covers some aspects of environmental management as well as  food safety standards on farms. It also audits grading floors - whether they are part of a farm operation or a separate entity, grading and packing eggs from various suppliers.
The costs associated with being an auditor for the ECA program make it unviable for a small operator like me. There has been insufficient work to justify the expenses - which is presumably one of the reasons the Australian Egg Corporation is handing over auditing rights to a 'global auditing company'.
The program has been vital in trying to gain consumer confidence in the face of all the scandals about the lack of 'truth in labelling' . There have been so many examples both here and overseas where smart operators have substituted eggs so they could make a quick buck.
The ECA logo on a carton of eggs is one of the assurances consumers have to give them confidence about product traceability which guarantees that the eggs in the carton were produced by the method identified on the label.
The only real issues about 'truth in labelling' concern 'free range' eggs. No-one is going to pretend that they are selling cage eggs if they are really free range - but some producers want the financial benefit that comes with claiming that their eggs are 'free range' when they are from barn or even cage operations. From consumer research at Farmers' Markets, it's known that 100% of buyers of 'free range' eggs believe that the hens are not de-beaked or beak trimmed and that they are roaming on pasture all day. Unfortunately that is not the reality. Most 'free range' eggs are laid by de-beaked hens and many may only have 'access to' an outdoor area for part of the day - but they spend little if any time outside. At best, they comply with the legal requirements of the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Domestic Poultry, which is the only 'free range' test of Egg Corp Assured compliance for this aspect of the program. But at worst, they don't even meet the low standards of the Model Code and yet they are sold as 'free range' eggs.
To be sure that the hens really are allowed to range freely, buyers should always look for the logo of the Free Range Farmers Association, which conducts independent inspections of member farms every year to ensure compliace with strict standards.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

'Chooks and Nature' feature in The Furrow

An article on Freeranger Eggs appears in the current issue of 'The Furrow', a widely circulated magazine for the farming community produced by John Deere. It publishes various editions around the world and says it is read by 15 million people.
The two page spread entitled 'Balancing chooks and nature' was written by Liz Harfull after she visited us last year.
It covers a lot of the reasons we got into egg production and a recognition of the environmental values of the property.
The only significant problem with the article (for anyone who knows where we are) is that it says our property 'overlooks Port Phillip Bay'. In fact we overlook Westernport!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Saying 'NO' is so hard

Demand from restaurants etc for free range eggs is showing no signs of slowing down. We are taking on another restaurant in Cowes on Phillip Island but this week we have declined two other requests to supply our eggs. One potental order from a restaurant in Melbourne (part of a major chain) for 150 - 200 dozen eggs each week would have taken half our weekly production.We also had to knock back a cooking school which is starting in Carlton because we simply don't deliver that far. They only wanted one or two boxes a week (30 dozen) but it was too far away.
It's very hard saying 'NO' but our food miles policy limits us to within one hour of the farm.
It's great that there is such an underlying demand for free range eggs and that consumers (professional and private) are increasingly aware that many so-called 'free range' eggs are produced on farms where the hens are de-beaked and have little or no direct access to pasture.
It's really only by looking for the logo of the Free Range Farmers Association on packs of eggs that consumers can be sure they are buying genuine free range eggs. Member farms are inspected annually to ensure that they comply with the strict standards of the Association - such as no de-beaked birds, stocking density requirements and a clear audit trail for the eggs produced and sold by the farm..
We are currently receiving three or four requests each month from restaurants in Melbourne and that probably has something to do with publicity such as the Mercurio's Menu TV show last month and our website which gets over 1000 hits each week. There will be a spot on Talk To The Animals this month, so the phone will keep ringing!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Excellent market at Churchill Island

We had an excellent Farmers' Market at Churchill Island on Good Friday. The weather was kind to us and enough people came along to make it a busy day.
Our garlic and chillies sold well, as did the eggs and there were heaps of new customers (which is expected during the holidays).
It's a pity that the market manager is not pushing for the market (and Inverloch which he also runs) to be accredited by the Victorian Farmers Markets Association. We would certainly be more comfortable if it was recognised as a genuine farmers' market - at present there are a number of stalls which do not meet the criteria for VFMA accreditation but that could be rectified with little effort (or revenue loss for the manager).
We will be trying out a new Farmers' Market at Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula which is being held on the fourth Sunday every month.
And next Saturday will probably be our last Pakenham Farmers' Market unless there is a dramatic increase in the number of customers. There has been no improvement since the change from Pakenham Racecourse to behind the Cultural Centre. It will be a pity to stop going because we have supported the market for years  but it's a decision that has to be made. There are heaps of things that need to be done on the farm which are more productive than standing around for five or six hours to sell 20 or 30 dozen eggs.