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