Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New shed ready for the next flock

A rollaway nesting system being assembled for the next mobile chook shed.
I'm putting the finishing touches to a caravan being modified to accommodate a small flock of hens - 200 pullets. Most of the floor has been ripped out and steel mesh installed to allow manure to fall through.

Perches have been set up and an SKA rollaway nesting system has been fitted - even though I'm not sure it is an improvement on traditional nest boxes with wood shavings.

We will see how it goes but I won't be surprised if after a couple of months I pull out the flash nesting system and put in normal nest boxes.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

An ombudsman for supermarkets?

Major supermarkets in Australia may come under pressure if the Labor Goverrnment loses power at this year's national election. The National Party is believed to be about to introduce a policy for a specialist regulator to oversee the industry.

A party room meeting on February 1 is expected to endorse the establishment of a regulator to try to curb the powers of the grocery duopoly, Coles and Woolworths. It will be similar to the establishment of Britain's first supermarket regulator which has power to fine the 10 biggest supermarkets if they have been found to have unfairly treated their suppliers. They are required to comply with a new code of conduct.

Understandably, both Coles and Woolworths don't like the prospect, preferring self-regulation. The current Labor Government agrees with them and has ruled out any legislative change.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Food safety issues on egg farms

Ideally, Storage temperatures
should be logged twice a day
In the US, authorities are beginning to enforce food safety requirements on egg farms. Here in Australia, we have a few regulations, but mostly just voluntary standards. Enforcement generally depends on individual  accreditation programs or on local government environmental heath officers - and that varies greatly from Shire to Shire.
One of the problem areas identified in the US was the recording of cool room temperatures. That is probably the biggest single issue here.
Many farms don't bother to log temperatures (some don't even have cool rooms) and some transport eggs for days in unrefrigerated vehicles.
The risks to health can be significant when eggs are stored and transported incorrectly and it seems weird that temperature control is not a mandatory requirement.
Here's an article about some of the US findings on non-compliance with regulations.

Friday, January 18, 2013

1500 chickens per hectare is the maximum for 'free range' production

The rationale for a maximum stocking density of 1500 chickens per hectare is quite clear. One thousand hens produce approximately 20 tonnes of semi dry poultry manure each year. Allowing the hens to free range over a pasture area has to be designed around the need to maintain pasture cover which is vital for farm sustainability, to limit dust and odour nuisances to neighbours and to avoid off-site pollution caused by the nutrients in the manure.

Maintaining well managed pasture over the range area is seen as the best method to handle these issues and is a requirement of most Standards for the production of free range poultry. A well managed pasture provides an opportunity for retaining and utilizing the nutrients from the poultry flock on site and avoiding the problems of leeching excess nutrients into ground water and nutrient run off into waterways or onto neighbouring properties. Excess poultry manure applied to pasture has been shown to increase soil salinity.

The upper limits are determined by the success in managing the rotation of the flock around the pasture to maintain cover and growth of the pasture and the nutrient load that the system can handle.

The maximum limit on nutrient loads is seen as critical and assessable and this was a major factor in formulating the recommended upper limit on stocking rates for the range during the development of free range egg production standards and the Model Code.

Agronomists assisted with the exercise and they looked at their experience with highly productive dairy pastures in the County of Cumberland (NSW) which had been fertilized with poultry manure and irrigated. These perennial pastures were mainly a Kikuyu Ryegrass Clover pasture which could yield in excess of 20 tonnes of dry matter a year.

Such a pasture would normally be recommended to be fertilized with 172 kg of N from Urea, 22kg of P from Single super and 60 kg of K from Muriate of potash. Poultry manure application rates had traditionally been at a higher rate resulting in high phosphate and potassium levels and an increase in soil ph but it was felt that an application rate of 15 tonnes of poultry manure per ha per annum would be sustainable in the longer term. The dairy farms had been using poultry manure at these rates for over twenty years.

Using semi dried poultry manure as the calculation, 15 tonnes of manure per annum would be applying 293 kg of N, 195 kg of P and 97.5 kg of K per ha per annum to the pasture. This rate was equivalent to the output of 750 hens. However since the hens would spend the night in the laying house from which the manure could be removed and used at another site it was translated into supporting a maximum daily stocking rate of 1500 hens per hectare.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Coles 'free range' standard

Well the Coles standard for its version of free range eggs is now up and running - have a look at this Coles facebook page.  It allows an outdoor stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare but there has been no science produced to demonstrate that such a high density has any animal welfare benefits or is a sustainable method of production.
The hens on those production facilities will almost certainly all be beak trimmed to control aggression generated by over-crowding. The nutrient build up on the land around the production sheds will be huge. Each hen excretes half a cubic metre of manure a year - so 10,000 hens per hectare equals 5000 cubic metres of manure.
Unless those hens are locked in their sheds (and of course they won't be as they are called 'free range'!!!!) the contamination of the land has the potential to generate serious health issues - for the chooks as well as consumers.  And that's before we look at land sustainability.
It's all those reasons which were taken into account when the Model Code was developed which established an absolute maximum outdoor stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Egg Corp spin - both fact and fiction

There are some interesting discussion points arising from comments by James Kellaway, Managing Director of the Australian Egg Corporation. Have a look at the attached link and see what you think. It is a blend of facts interwoven with assertions which the Egg Corp board likes to perpetuate.

It would be great to have a public debate with him.

I have no argument with James' comment about the supermarket duopoly in Australia. Clearly, the 'free range' standard planned by Coles is just as absurd as the Egg Corp's Egg Standards Australia proposal.

I also accept his comments about farm management practices having more impact on animal welfare than the production system. I have said many times that I have seen some very poorly managed 'free range' farms and some well run cage farms.

But the rest of his comments just repeat industry spin which has been rejected by many in the industry as well as by consumers. Enjoy!

Friday, January 04, 2013

New Coles 'free range' standard about to be launched

Supermarket giant Coles, is about to launch its new 'free range' egg standard which allows its 'free range' egg suppliers to run their hens at a stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare, when the current maximum under the Model Code is accepted as 1500 per hectare.

Coles has been conducting on-farm inspections to see if its supplier farms meet their new standards (hard to imagine that anyone will fail!)

The new standard is expected to be launched later this month following the withdrawl of the Australian Egg Corporation's ill-fated Egg Standards Australia propposal which sought to introduce a 20,000 stocking density. It will be interesting to see how the new Coles standard is accepted by consumers (and the ACCC) and any response from the other supermarket giant Woolworths.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Land - Egg Corp stuffed!!

Here's an article in The Land newspaper by journalist Andrew Marshall

EGG industry plans to kick-start the year with a new national quality assurance trademark for free-range eggs have been taken back to the drawing board.
Peak industry body, the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL), has bowed to increasing consumer scepticism about its quality assurance guidelines which would have approved free-range farms running as many as 20,000 hens a hectare. Critics of the high stocking rate believe AECL was jolted into withdrawing its trademark plan after a big pre-Christmas fine was imposed on a NSW duck producer convicted of falsely advertising its shedded poultry as free-range. The maximum stocking density advocated by well-established free-range egg producers is about 1500 birds/ha - a standard that has also been reinforced by law in Queensland - while some industry purists insist on stocking densities below 700/ha. AECL's application for a certification trademark had intended to provide consumers with a national benchmark that recognised a recently enhanced Quality Assurance (QA) program across the industry. The QA program for cage, barn-laid and free-range eggs was developed during three years of consultation with scientists, egg producers, regulators and the broader community. Its aim has been to set minimum egg production standards for hen welfare, food safety, farm biosecurity, environmental stewardship and egg labelling. "However, in response to concerns from some members of the community regarding three of the 171 minimum standards in the proposed QA program AECL has decided to withdraw the application," the corporation explained in a statement released just prior to Christmas. It said some structural elements of the program and "other observations" had helped mould its decision to halt the trademark program, which had been proposed for a late 2012 launch. In November the egg corporation copped a stern warning from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which questioned whether the trademark was misleading. ACCC received more than 1700 submissions about free-range eggs - most of them challenging the perceived high stocking capacity proposed for farms which qualified for free-range certification. It said the accreditation did not appear to fit consumer expectations of free-range farming and the consumer watchdog was unlikely to approve the trademark. Many free range producers also hope the ACCC will go further and start legal proceedings against some free-range producers who are believed to be running significantly more than 20,000 hens/ha, or are substituting cage or barn-laid eggs to meet the fast rising demand for free-range lines. Vocal Victorian campaigner against AECL's plans to make 20,000/ha a maximum standard for the industry, Phil Westwood, said the ACCC had already indicated its intentions pursuing a NSW duck producer in the Federal Court over misleading "open range" claims. On December 19 Windsor-based Pepe's Ducks was ordered to pay a $375,000 fine for advertising and packaging claims about its ducks being raised on the "open range" and "grown nature's way". Pepe's ducks had been grown in barns and were not allowed outdoors. The ACCC said the fine was a win for enforcing honesty in poultry industry advertising where consumers wanted labels to be "true and accurate". Eggs labelled free-range have been fast gaining market share, now representing 30 per cent of Australia's 13 million daily egg sales. But Mr Westwood believed about a third of those eggs may be sourced from intensive free-range farms carrying up to 40,000 chooks/ha or more, or farms keeping hens in barns most of the time. He said submissions to the ACCC showed most consumers believed free-range farms should running less than 1500 hens in grassy grazing conditions, not bare paddocks or big sheds with limited outdoor access. "I know a lot of big egg producers want to be able to produce massive volumes of eggs just as they do with cage facilities, but I don't think there's any room for the AECL to make compromises here," Mr Westwood said. "In fact, 1500 hens/ha is already a significant compromise." He said many mid-sized cage egg producers also strongly opposed AECL's big free-range capacity plans because it would encourage a flood of cheap free-range eggs on the market, forcing cage egg prices down to compete for market share. Margins were already slim for many egg farmers supplying the major brand names and generic supermarket labels, and getting tighter as electricity and feed grain costs rose. AECL said at this point it still intended to submit a new trade mark application after reviewing issues raised and making any necessary amendments to the minimum standards. It noted there was no opposition to the standards for cage or barn-laid egg production in the new QA program.

'Free Range' farm agrees to cut hen numbers

The saga of the Swan Valley free range egg farm in WA appears to be over, with the owner accepting that he will have to reduce his hen numbers to meet permit conditions.
This farm was accredited to the Egg Corp Assured program - until the breaches of permit conditions became public ! It demonstrates that the Australian Egg Corporation does not enforce the requirements of its own accreditation program.