Monday, November 29, 2010

Hens foraging in native pasture

Some of our oldest flock of Isa Browns foraging in their paddock. The grass is mainly native pasture - Microlaena Stipoides (Weeping Grass) which is ideal for chooks. It's a very hardy grass which generally stays green longer than exotic pasture and is a high protein feed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

AECL comments an 'insult' to egg farmers

The Burnie Advocate in Tasmania published this article yesterday:

NATIONAL egg associations had a fiery exchange recently.

Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia president Phil Westwood said comments made by the Australian Egg Corporation were an insult to operators.

"Recent comments in UK publications by the Egg Corp’s managing director, James Kellaway, that an increase in stocking densities from 1500 to at least 10,000 hens per hectare was essential for free-range farms to be commercial’ is an insult to the operators of existing commercial farms who meet all current standards" Mr Westwood said.

"AECL’s position is hardly credible, as free range egg farms have been operating comfortably in Australia for many years, meeting a maximum stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare.

"It seems that AECL wants the commercial imperative to override consumer choice, farm sustainability and animal welfare requirements." However, Australian Egg Corporation managing director James Kellaway said the statement was "out of context".

"Some egg producers have said to be commercial they need to run that number," he said.

"Some egg producers said they are very productive at 1500." Mr Kellaway said other egg producers said they were not commercially productive at this number.

He said that in the statements made he had been conveying what some egg producers told him.

Sunnyside free-range chicken farmer Ross Hingston said when it came to producing eggs, bigger wasn’t necessarily better.

"The more (hens) you have, the more trouble you have as far as pasture goes," he said.

"I sell a fair bit of feed, and don’t rely entirely on eggs.

"If you relied entirely on eggs you might need to expand." At last count Mr Hingston had 600 laying birds, and supplies eggs to about a dozen shops around the Devonport and Latrobe area.

He was told at the last audit he had room for expansion, but he has no plans to expand just yet.

Mr Hingston said expanding meant employing people and he is currently a one man operation.
I leave it to your imagination to figure out why some operators are telling Mr Kellaway that they are not commercially viable at a stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare. I wonder what the reason could possibly be? Wouldn't be greed would it? No surely not, after all we are talking about ethical business people aren't we? 
Oh dear, there goes the phone again!!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pressure is building on AECL

With Coles' announcement about dumping cage eggs from its Home Brand range, and stocking only 'free range' in its Home Brand category, it must by now be dawning on the Australian Egg Corporation that they are not properly representing egg producers.
They've been playing games with the supermarkets giants - but they lost sight of the fact that they are supposed to represent the interests of the whole egg industry. And that's all of us. Cage, Barn and Free Range producers.
The stupid decision to try to change the standards for 'free range' production demonstrates how out of touch AECL staff are. They haven't only annoyed free range farmers - even the cage boys acknowledge that the draft is bull____ !
Anyway, the Australian Egg Corporation is making itself a laughing stock around the world - have a look at this UK website:

Monday, November 22, 2010

AECL squeals at Coles

The Australian Corporation has its knickers in a knot after Coles announced its decision to phase out  its home brand cage eggs and reduce the price of its home brand 'free range' eggs. Don't know why they are pretending to be upset because this was always planned once AECL tried to water down 'free range' standards.
Here's the press release AECL sent out:
Egg industry supports consumer choice

Coles Supermarkets have announced that they will lower the price of their free-range eggs to encourage consumers to buy eggs that are more “ethically produced”. In addition to this, Coles plans to remove Coles brand of cage produced eggs by 2013, thereby removing the most cost effective egg category available to Australian households in their stores. Coles have entered into this decision without consultation with industry representatives or their own suppliers of eggs, leaving egg farmers disappointed and concerned for the future of their businesses.
“Australian egg farmers are passionate about producing accessible, sustainable and affordable food for Australian families and have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to ensure the welfare, health and safety of egg laying hens, across all recognized egg production systems” declared AECL’s Managing Director James Kellaway.
Coles Merchandise Director, John Durkan stated, “This is part of our ongoing campaign to offer all customers quality fresh food, ethically produced and at affordable prices.” Yet Coles pick and choose what is “ethical” according to their own agenda, rather than relying on fact and scientific reality. Eggs from cage systems offer welfare, food safety and environmental advantages that cannot be found in alternative systems, and by restricting the variety available to consumers, Coles strips shoppers of the freedom to make their own ethical choices at the supermarket checkout.
With nearly 65% of eggs sold at retail, coming from cage systems in Australia (and around 85% worldwide), Coles are dictating to their customers what products they can and cannot purchase. With a growing population expected to reach 36 million by 2050, and 12% of Australian children currently living in poverty, now is not the time to take away one of the most affordable, versatile and nutrient dense foods available.
Australian egg farmers are committed to farming for the future nutrition of all Australians, by offering the freedom for consumers to choose what variety of egg production suits their needs. “Farmers face countless challenges to produce the food we eat, with drought, flood, pests and competition from imported goods, it is disappointing that one of the major retailers in Australia chooses to create further impediments to egg farming families, thereby challenging the viability and sustainability of local food production” added Mr. Kellaway.

Beating up on Coles for listening to its customers doesn't strike me as a very good idea and I can't imagine what James Kellaway is thinking. He's obviously getting some very poor advice particularly as he has spent the past six months trying to push through an intensive 'free range' stocking density standard which will be essential if Coles is to meet its stated objectives.

It seems that AECL agrees with Con Tamvakis and doesn't care what consumers want.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Density increase shocks Australian free-range farmers

The following article appears in the latest issues of UK magazines. Farmers Weekly and Poultry World.
Scott Casey Thursday 11 November 2010

Free-range egg farmers in Australia could be facing an increase in the stocking density permitted on farms to improve commercial viability.

Levy body, the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL), which represents the entire egg sector, has been researching changes that could see the current maximum of 1500 birds/ha expanded to anywhere up to 10,000 birds/ha or beyond. UK limits are just 2000 birds/ha.

Philip Westwood from the Free-Range Farmers Association said he believed the new stocking density would be closer to 20,000 birds/ha and that calling such farms "free-range" would mislead consumers.

"Obviously, the stocking densities they are proposing, no sane person would consider to be free range," Mr Westwood said. "If they do go ahead with this, it's going to destroy consumer confidence."

But AECL executive director James Kellaway told Farmers Weekly that an online survey of 5000 people had shown the average consumer was happy with a stocking density for free range of 10,000 birds/ha.

Mr Kellaway added that he didn't believe producers working to the current stocking density could be commercially viable.

"The stocking rate needs to be high enough so it is achievable, but low enough that it is clearly differentiated from the other two standards [barn and cage]. It needs to be obtainable on a commercial scale," Mr Kellaway said.

Mr Kellaway's comments are an insult to all those operators of commercial free range egg farms who have been supplying customers for many years and who have met all current standards. Presumabably what Mr Kellaway means is that the big farms want to make extra profits by pretending they are producing free range eggs.

The guidelines have not yet been set, but Mr Kellaway said he expected the new stocking density would come into effect in December or early January next year.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Steady rain dampens demand at Coal Creek

Steady rain all morning (which continued for the rest of the day) dampened demand from customers at the second Coal Creek Farmers' Market on Saturday.
It reinforced the need to have other outlets for egg sales rather than simply rely on the markets. The slack sales meant that once I was back on the farm, we were able to fill our delivery orders which need to go out on Sunday.
Coal Creek is now accredited by the Victorian Farmers Markets Association so it is one of the genuine Farmers' Markets held around the state.
Many so-called 'Farmers' Markets' have bodgey stallholders who don't grow or make the stuff they sell - so VFMA accreditation means that customers are not being conned.
It's the same with accredited egg farms. Unless the farm is accredited by the Free Range Farmers Association Inc., the farm probably doesn't meet consumer expectations about stocking densities and whether or not the birds are de-beaked.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

More fuss from an egg farmer

I had a very interesting phone call yesterday from a 'free range' egg farmer who wasn't happy with all the noise the Free Range Farmers Association and the Free Range Egg Poultry Association of Australia have been making about the current standards for free range eggs and the proposals put up by the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd.
He was one of those turkeys who says 'you'd better be careful my friend' - as if I would want to be his friend!!!!
He wouldn't tell me what specifically he was in a spin about but he described our members as 'hobby farmers' and said I had used information that I had obtained as an Egg Corp Assured Auditor to attack his business.
From his comments I gathered that I can expect a solicitor's letter or a writ for defamation - but I have no idea what he thinks I have said that is not true.
It probably centres around de-beaked (or beak trimmed) birds - but that is factual because those are the hens he buys.
Why he regards us as 'hobby farmers' is another mystery. A number of our members are significantly larger than his operation - and they don't de-beak their hens. There is no need for beak trimming on a real free range farm.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Goodbye Spotswood Farmers' Market

We had an interesting experiment with the Spotswood Farmers' Market - to see if it was worthwhile adjusting our food miles policy to supply our eggs to people in the city.
Almost everyone was telling us we were mad not to be selling in Melbourne - so we thought we would give it a go!
The Spotswood Farmers' Market (on the first Saturday of the month) started in September. The weather was foul so there little wonder that no-one came. The second market was the same day at the replay of the pathetic AFL Grand Final (so again there was an excuse for the non-performance of the market).
Yesterday was the third market at Spotswood and although we sold out (because we had very few eggs to take) most of the stallholders I spoke to were not happy with their sales.
So unfortunately we won't be back there in December and we will continue to concentrate on our core area - within one hour of the farm.
Next Saturday will be the second Farmers' Market at Coal Creek, Korumburra and we hope to be able to build our customer base there to equal Inverloch and Phillip Island.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Methionine in chook food

The absence of feathers on hens can be caused by several things and can be separated into two groups: 1) birds that don't grow feathers and 2) birds that pull them out or break them off. Either problem can be managed by correcting the cause.

The most common reason that feathers do not develop is a deficiency of a critical amino acid (methionine) from the diet of the birds. The feathers of birds contain high levels of methionine which is one of only a few amino acids that contain sulfur, an essential component of feathers. An adequate level of methionine is required in the diet. It occur naturally in many grains but a deficiency results in reduced growth and feather development. A methionine deficient bird will tend to eat feathers in an attempt to satisfy a craving for this amino acid. A bird may even pull them from its own body or from other birds.

Feed rations that are high in plant proteins, such as soybean meal, will contain natural levels of amino acids, including methionine - eliminating the need to add supplements to the ration. But take care not to raise protein levels too much as high-protein diets are not healthy for poultry or the environment. If the hens really have access to pasture (which often has a protein content of 30%) it can be counter-productive to feed a supplementary ration with a protein level of more than 17 - 18%.

Methionine is used extensively as a dietary supplement by human body builders (to enhance muscle bulk). And is is one of the major reasons that commercial meat poultry growers are able to grow their birds so quickly that they are ready for slaughter in just six weeks.

For egg production, if the grains used in making poultry rations contain inadequate levels of methionine, some suppliers add synthetic methionine (DL methionine) to the dietary mix to ensure that the birds receive sufficient amounts. All quality poultry feeds are formulated to contain adequate methionine to maintain growth and feather development. However, if additional grains (such as corn) are fed with the complete feed, then the amount of methionine consumed by the bird can be inadequate for their development. Feeding of additional grains with complete poultry feeds is not recommended.

Chooks that grow feathers well, but which are later pulled out or broken off, the cause is usually management related.

If methionine is added to poultry feed, egg producers should ensure that it is the natural version and not the synthetic DL methionine which is widely available (and cheaper).  Laying hens that consume 100 g of feed per day should ideally have 0.30% methionine in their diet - not hard to achieve with a properly balanced grain-based mix.