Friday, December 29, 2006

Fuel Reduction Burns - are they any use?

The extent of fires in Victoria seems to have demonstrated conclusively that fuel reduction burns have little if any impact on the damage caused by wildfires in bushland areas.
Much of the vegetation which was deliberately burned two years ago as the required 'knee-jerk' reaction to fire safety has again been burned - so what was gained by the time and effort involved in the prescribed burns (apart from the inner glow it gave those who love setting fires)
Now one of the ludicrous actions of bureaucracy is the fire bombing of areas which survived the wildfire. They are making sure they get the lot!
There is a fixation with showing the 'assets' which which have been destroyed - houses, fences, plantation timber, pasture etc. But what about the native fauna and habitat values which have been lost.

Farmers' Markets and Free Range Eggs

We're in the middle of the silly season now with many thousands of holidaymakers on Phillip Island. Our regular monthly Farmers' Market on Churchill Island is now being held weekly which puts a heap of pressure on our production. To cope with the extra demand we have a new flock of 450 hens which are just beginning to lay and should be in full production in a week or two.
As well as our regular home deliveries and deliveries to health food stores, restaurants and other outlets, we have six markets over the next four weeks - so we needed to up our production from around 400 dozen a week to at least 600 dozen.
Thankfully the recent weather has been kind to us, with rain over Christmas (although that didn't impress those lucky enough to be on holiday) and cool weather since then.
There are still a few stalls selling illegal eggs, as there are at most markets. Buyers need to be aware that just because someone sticks up a sign saying the eggs are free range doesn't mean that they are!
The only way to be sure is to ask if the farm is accredited and check that it has a food safety program in place. There are many stallholders who simply buy eggs in bulk from a cage farm, stick them in second hand cartons and sell them as 'free range' at inflated prices.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It's raining on Christmas Day

What a great day. It was 6 degrees celcius at six o'clock this morning and it's been raining on an off all night and most of the morning so far.
We've had 24 mm of rain in the past couple of days and that is just tremendous after the long dry spell. Most of our rainwater tanks are now overflowing.
It's a great relief for the firefighters who have been battling wildfires in Gippsland - some of them deliberately lit by people who should be removed from this planet!
The rain didn't stop Santa and my two grandchildren had great fun this morning ripping the paper off heaps of goodies.
I'd better head off and do some of the farm chores now (nothing stops just because it's Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The summer is hotting up

We are surrounded by smoke today - from the wildlifes burning in Gippsland. Thankfully they are a long way from us but it's hard to breathe, even indoors.
The smoke means it shouldn't get too hot here today, probably around 34 - 36 degrees celsius so our hens won't be too uncomfortable.
On really hot days we have to spend time with them spraying water to keep their body temperatures down. A couple of years ago we lost over 40 hens on a 44 degree day and we don't want a repeat of that.
A new flock of 450 point of lay pullets arrived this week and they have settled in well with their dog for protection. One laid her first egg today.
The new hens should help us to meet the demand for eggs during the January holiday period when we never have enough! The restaurants we supply, health food shops etc all need more eggs for their customers and our direct sales at Farmers' Markets double or even triple (if we have enough).
I've spent a bit of time revamping my website in an effort to make it more search engine-friendly. And it seems to have worked. The site now has a far better ranking with Google, Yahoo, Alta Vista and Dogpile. Interestingly, we are still way down the list with Lycos, but are top of the heap on the Lycos subsidiary Hotbot! Can't work that out.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Aussie drought is biting

The drought is biting pretty hard in most parts of Australia and even here in South Gippsland we are not immune. The town water supply is dwindling fast and farm dams are running low. People on Phillip Island are starting to panic with the tourist season fast approaching.
One of the pathetic things though is the way some farmers just have to whinge!
One local was in the paper last week saying he had to sell cattle at a third of their market market value.
What a load of cr*p. He sold at the market price. If he'd had the sense to sell a month or two earlier he may well have received two thirds more for his cattle.
The biggest impact so far for us is the price of feed. It's already risen 25 - 30% and as feed is our biggest input in the cost of producing eggs we will have to pass that on to consumers.
For us the Christmas holiday period is truly the 'silly season' because the population increases so remarkably that we have no hope of meeting demand for free range eggs.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Strzelecki Forest Buy-Back

Although this doesn't relate directly to our farm, I reckon it's an important topic - and as this is my Blog here goes!

An announcement by the Victorian Government to buy back 8000 hectares of forest in the Strzelecki Ranges, which had been earmarked for logging (mainly for woodchips) confirms the great result for protecting the areas identified as the Cores and Links.
There are always people who are disatisfied with any negotiated conservation agreement - but by any test the Strzelecki agreement is a top result! The State Government has committed to Provide $7 million to buy back the iconic Cores and Links area to be vested with the Trust for Nature for future conservation. The previous Kennett Government privatised much of the Strzelecki ranges when it sold the Victorian Plantations Corporation.
The current Government worked with the local community and Hancock Victorian Plantations to ensure the protection of the high biodiversity sites in the Strzelecki Ranges. As a result, the Government and the community reached agreement with Hancock's to buy-back over 8,000 hectares of native forest and hardwood plantation, funded through existing resources.
This high value Cores and Links forest will be gifted to the Trust for Nature for on-going conservation and management so it can be enjoyed by all Victorians. It really is a 'win-win' as there will be no job losses resulting from the protection of these key areas and Hancock Victorian Plantations timber requirements to feed the pulp- mill will be met through accessing timber supplies identified with the community, including once only harvesting of 1,500 hectares of hardwood plantation within the Cores and Links area (remember that's out of the 8000 ha buyback). The deal may not be perfect but it's a damn sight better than most people thought was achieveable.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The (LEGAL) Definition of Free Range Egg Production

In most Australian States there is no legal definition governing the production of 'free range' eggs - which leaves consumers in the dark about what they are buying unless the farm is accredited by the Free Range Farmers Association.
But in NSW, consumers are protected by a definition which makes it illegal for eggs to be sold as free range if they are from hens who have been beak trimmed, the stocking density is greater than 1500 birds per hectare, or if the area over which the hens are allowed to range is not mainly covered by palatable vegetation.
Here is the definition as posted on the website of the NSW Department of Primary Industries as Agnote DAP 02 :
'The standards prohibit practices such as beak trimming and induced moulting. These changes are designed to ensure that free-range egg production is clearly differentiated from intensive systems of egg production and to maintain the perceptions consumers have of the husbandry of free-range flocks. The new standards have the support of the International Fund for Animal Welfare because free-range flocks are managed so that the practices of beak trimming and induced moulting are not required.
A ‘free-range’, ‘open range’ or ‘range’ egg is one produced according to these standards and in compliance with the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals No. 83 — Domestic Poultry (4th edition) endorsed by the Australian Agricultural Council.
Hens have permanent access to a weatherproof house with a deep litter or slatted floor, and equipped with feeders, drinkers, nest boxes and perches.
The stocking rate of the house does not exceed 5 birds per square metre of deep-litter floor space or 10 birds per square metre of slatted floor space.
Housing, space allowance, equipment, lighting, ventilation, temperature, food, water, health and management practices are within the limits of the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals No. 83 — Domestic Poultry (4th edition).
Hens have access to open-air runs during daylight hours.
Hens must be protected from predators at all times.
The ground to which hens have access is mainly covered with palatable vegetation and has some shade provided.
It is essential to have vegetation cover growing on the land where the hens are permitted to range.
The stocking rate of the runs does not exceed 1.5 birds per 10 square metres, that is, 1500 hens per hectare (600 hens per acre).
Beak-trimmed stock (hens and pullets) must not be used.
Induced moulting must not be practised.
The standards have been accepted as the Code that describes free-range eggs under the provisions of the Food Act 2003 and the Fair Trading Act 1987. This means that a person can be prosecuted for selling eggs as free-range eggs which were not produced under these guidelines.'

This requirement, if introduced nationally (and enforced) would give consumers confidence in purchasing eggs labelled as 'free range'.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Cows with Guns & Chickens in Choppers

This flash video clip has been around for a while but I only came across it this morning...and I'm still laughing!
I'll have to suggest some scenarios for the sequel - 'Chickens in Choppers' going to rescue battery hens.
The Human Battery Cage Project which was the subject of an earlier post has been launched in Sydney and has been well received with some excellent publicity.
As part of it, the RSPCA and Animal Liberation have also launched a TV campaign. Here's one of the commercials

Saturday, October 07, 2006

I Love Eggs

Eggs are a healthy and nutritious food despite all the hype in previous years about cholesterol. For a long time, eggs have been seen as having very high cholesterol levels. Scientific studies show that total fat, especially saturated fat intake is far more important in determining the amount of cholesterol in your blood than the intake of dietary cholesterol.
And there's heaps of other stuff in eggs which make them an ideal part of any diet - things like folic acid.
Consumers often lose sight of the fact that eggs are a nutrient rich, low cost part of a healthy diet. Not only are eggs a high quality source of protein but they also contain almost every essential vitamin and mineral needed by humans.
In fact, egg protein is of such high quality that it is used as the standard by which other proteins are compared. Eggs have a biological value of 93.7%. Comparable values are 84.5% for milk, 76% for fish, and 74.3% for beef. Eggs really are the best protein money can buy, they have all those other valuable vitamins and minerals - and they're fun too.
Have a look at this clip!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Best War Ever

It's amazing what lobs up on the farm computer. This arrived yesterday:
and although nothing in it surprises me it's great that people have the guts to put this sort of thing together.
As an Australian I'm disgusted at the behaviour and attitude of our Prime Minister John Howard and his Ministers - and I can only imagine how peed-off some Americans are at the actions of G Dubbya

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Freeranger Eggs - part of the Biosphere program

Freeranger Eggs and the Blue Mountain Creek farm at Grantville is a part of the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve. The farm participated in the Reserve's Business Environmental Sustainability Recognition Program which is all about working and living sustainably within the region.

Unfortunately not too many businesses are doing that yet. But it's early days. Hopefully there will be a greater acceptance of the program amongst business large and small as well as residents. It's really about raising awareness and understanding that we live in a special place!

On the farm we do things to ensure we have a small ecological footprint. We generate no adverse off-site impacts and we minimise inputs as much as possible. For example we don't use fertilisers brought in from elsewhere. We find that on-farm nutrient sources are sufficient to maintain our grass growth.

All creek lines are vegetated to ensure there is no nutrient run-off and a large part of the property is covered with native vegetation, linking the Grantville Flora and Fauna Reserve with the Bass River. Our river frontage and the adjoining land (which is owned by a sand extraction company) is the only remaining riparian forest left on the Bass.

For further details of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program have a look at

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Early results of free range survey

Consumer survey on ‘What is free range?’

So far 185 people have responded to our survey on what people believe they are buying when they purchase free range eggs.
The two major points on which everyone agreed were that the hens must not be beak trimmed or de-beaked and they must be able to roam over grass or a vegetated area for most of the day.
In percentages, the responses so far are:

Just what do you think is a free range egg farm?
Hens spend all day in a paddock 51%
Small farms 13%
Eggs collected by hand 9%

Do you think free range hens forage over pasture during most daylight hours?
Yes 100%

Do you think there is a limit on the number of hens in one shed or on one area of land? If so how many hens and how large should the area of land be?
Under 50 9%
Under 500 43%
Under 1000 29%
Under 1500 3%
Don’t know 17%

Do you think free range hens are de-beaked (or beak trimmed)?
No 100%

Do you look for accreditation details on the label to ensure that the eggs you buy are really free range?
Yes 76%

Is it OK to use lighting to extend daylight hours in free range sheds?
No 54%

Do you buy free range eggs because: they taste better; more humane treatment of animals; or some other reason?
Animal welfare 52%
Taste 48%

Where do you buy your free range eggs; from a supermarket, health food shop, local store, direct from a farm or do you have home delivery?
Markets 67%
Health Food Shops 49%
Supermarket 12%

There is still time for more feedback if you want to help to get a real definition of what ‘free range’ means to you. Help us to get a definition that means something. Just send you comments to

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Human Battery Project

There are plans to build human sized battery cages and tour them around Australia as an artistic expression and to raise awareness of factory farming methods. Things are progressing very well, and a website has been set up with a volunteer register at It is hoped that many people are willing to volunteer their time to sit in the cages, collect petition signatures, or hand out leaflets. Please check out the site and list yourself on the register / mailing list

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Egg Substitution

The Sydney Morning Herald has a very enlightening article on the egg substitution issue - which is largely a result of the poor definition of the term 'free range'

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Cold weather affecting production

Even though we are close to the coast, we've had more frosts this year than usual - six or seven instead of just one or two - and that has affected our egg laying rate.
We normally need around 400 dozen a week to satisfy demand but for the past couple of weeks we've been down to around 200 dozen.

This means that customers at the two main markets we attend - Churchill Island Farmers Market and Cardinia Ranges Farmers Market have been suffering.

We have been battling to keep up supplies to our regular outlets and home delivery customers.

The problem should sort itself out in a few weeks when a new flock comes into lay, but it's frustrating waiting for supply to catch up with demand.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


It's hard hard to understand why so many people just don't get that we are all part of the same planet. What's so difficult about accepting that destroying vast areas of forest in the Amazon, or Indonesia, or Australia will have major implications for everyone? We all breathe the same air and we all drink the same water (some of us have to drink recycled water and probably most will have to in the future if we live in cities).
Farm businesses can certainly help to reduce those problems if there is an effective farm programme which allows the business to carry out its activities without detrimental impacts. In Australia, the Landcare programme has fostered a tremendous understanding that something needs be done.
It has germinated the idea that farm practices can actually enhance profits and regional biodiversity at the same time. It is a great starting point - but time is running out! We have to get our various acts into gear and get serious about managing our catchments in a way that delivers a community benefit.
I don't think we've done that so far.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sustainable Farming

The Freeranger Egg Farm was one of five farms that participated in a study backed by the Australian Government’s Envirofund program. It found that free range farming practices are viable and have minimal impacts on the environment.
The study, carried out on properties in the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority area showed that properly managed free range egg farms have many benefits - including long term sustainability. The study, conducted by an independent agronomist, found that our production techniques were sustainable and showed that our low stocking density provided overall cost benefits.
At the Freeranger Farm we believe that low density production is the key to sustainability. “It doesn’t make any real difference whether you are running cattle, sheep or chooks, if your stocking rate is too high you will run into trouble” is our philosophy.
It’s hard to justify European farming practices in many parts of Australia – they simply don’t work with our soil types and climate.
The property is demonstrating that primary production can be commercially viable without compromising ecological values and that cost-effective farming, environmental protection and enhancing species biodiversity are not mutually exclusive. Farm production includes chemical-free beef and lamb, wool for hand spinning and free range eggs from hens in mobile roosts. Regular movement of the roost houses provides natural nutrients to maintain lush grass growth with no additional inputs, also encouraging the spread of native grasses. As our soil is slightly acidic, it is ideally suited to growing native pasture - so why spend money trying to turn the soil into something that favours exotic species lkike ryegrass and clover?
Activities on the property have been designed to minimise off-site impacts. All creeks lines are vegetated to maintain water quality run off into Bass River and our management ensures the long term sustainability of our farming activities.


Free Range Eggs - Why Buy Them?

There are quite a few reasons people buy Free Range Eggs. Most chefs who care about the food they prepare always buy the best ingredients - and that includes fresh free range eggs. They make better soufles, omelettes or scrambled, poached - or even simply fried or boiled. Just taste the difference.

A free range egg straight from the farm is a gourmet delight. But you need to sure that the farm is an accredited free range producer - and that's a problem in Australia and many other countries. Because the legal definition of a free range egg is so woolly (or non-existent) many farms claim their eggs are free range so they can command a higher price when in reality the eggs they sell are from hens mainly confined in sheds.

The normal image of free range is of birds roaming pastures seeking out worms and all the other little goodies they can find. And that's what you get from farms accredited by the Free Range Farmers Association. Each farm is inspected every year to ensure it complies with all conditions - including access to pasture and no de-beaking. Some farms never lock their hens up. Have a look at the Freeranger website: Our hens have mobile roost houses in which they lay their eggs but they spend most of the day, and even some of the night foraging in the grass.

That's true free range. Not the marketing hype of some intensive farm system which has a pop hole in the side of the shed leading to a barren enclosure of mud or concrete.

Phil Westwood

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

different production systems

We get a heap of calls and emails about different egg production systems and which eggs are best.
The reality is that choosing cage eggs, barn laid or free range is a matter of consumer choice.

There is no way that a genuine free range farm with a few hundred or even a few thousand hens can compete on price with a barn system which has 100,000 birds locked in a shed or 500,000 birds in cages.

The big operations have much lower input costs per dozen eggs - the feed price is lower if you buy 50 tonnes at a time, cartons are cheaper if you buy a semi-trailer load and labour costs are lower. Often only one person is needed to operate a shed (even it houses 300,000 birds) because virtually everything is computer controlled.

A true free range farm is labour intensive and ensures there is regular interaction with the birds and other animals on the farm. Collecting eggs, making sure water and feed are available at all times needs to be more than just pushing a button on a computer!

Phil Westwood