Saturday, April 30, 2011

Webcam view of 'free range' egg production

Major egg producer, Sunny Queen has set up a webcam to show hens on one of its 'free range' farms.
The site can be accessed at:

Unfortunately the quality is not good enough to see whether or not the birds are de-beaked or beak trimmed, but because of the scale of the company and its operations, they almost certainly are beak trimmed.
Sunny Queen is represented on the board of the Australian Egg Corporation which is trying to push through a new standard to define 'free range' egg production to allow up to 20,000 birds per hectare.
I bet Sunny Queen won't be too keen to show the results of a stocking density like that.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jinma - worst tractors in the world?

I think it's a bit rough to call the Chinese Jinma tractors the worst in the world. They certainly don't measure up to a Case, John Deere, Fendt - or even a Fiat. But they don't cost that much either.
In this world, the best you can hope for is generally to get what you pay for.
I've had quite a few different tractors on the farm and as a basic workhorse, my Jinma 354 is OK (for a cheapie). The biggest problem with our unit was the hydraulics. They didn't work properly from day one. The controller for the front end loader was replaced a couple of weeks after delivery because of a manufacturing fault, fluid leaks continued unabatedfor three years.
We used at least $100 of hydraulic fluid every year because of leaks in the system. Mechanics who come to fix it say 'Oh it's Chinese. That's what they do.'
Then at last we mnaged to get it fixed. Apart from the cost of the leaking hydraulics, the only other big gripe was the rear hydraulic lift but that has now also been fixed.  The front end loader works great I must admit that a few choice words have passed my lips about my Jinma - but then I think .... I should have paid $50,000 for a tractor instead of $20,000.
It does a great job  pulling our mobile chicken sheds around the paddocks - and as that's its primary purpose, it scrapes by as 'not the worst tractor in the world.'

World Egg Day in October

Every year on the second Friday in October, it's World Egg Day, a campaign developed by the International Egg Commission to promote the consumption of eggs.This year it's October 14 and there will be a range of events here in Australia as well as around the rest of the world.
Here's the link for more info:
Now that medical researchers have come to their senses and recognised that eggs are good for us (even the Heart Foundation has given eggs the tick of approval), eggs are being included as part of a healthy diet.
My favorites are poached and scrambled, but I like eggs any way - as long as they are free range.The nutritional value and taste are far superior to eggs produced on factory farms. Those intensive facilities which call themselves 'free range' but debeak (or beak trim) their birds should also be classed as factory farms, because the hens cannot forage properly. They can generally only eat feed provided for them in pans or trays - so the eggs they lay are nutritionally identical to cage laid eggs where the chickens can only eat that same food. Genuine free range birds with full beaks are able to supplement their diet by eating worms, spiders, grasshoppers etc  - all the things they are supposed to eat and which add to the nutritional value of their eggs.

Here's one Chinese treat you could try to celebrate World Egg Day: Thousand Year Eggs Take a dozen or so raw chook eggs and add a few ingredients, including ash, salt, clay and lime. Then, bury the whole eggs in the ground (a pot filled with soil will do) for a thousand years or so (the recipe calls for 100 days). Then, dig them up and munch away. Both the white and yolk will have a grayish, dark colour. The yolk will have a green hue or tint. Some find the grayish green yolk unattractive (I can't think why).
I'll defnitely pass on that. But if anyone wants to give it a go, please let me know how you went!!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chefs have great difficulty finding real free range eggs

There's an excellent article about the difficulty in finding real free range eggs by chef Sebastian Carosi, published in the US newspaper, Rappahannock News.
Here's some of his article.

Good eggs are hard to come by — harder than you may think. It seems you can find chicken and eggs labeled “organic” and “free range” in just about any grocery store these days, packaged in bucolic images of rolling green hills and red barns. That is almost never the reality, even among these supposedly humane alternatives.
A chicken fed organic feed in a confinement barn with a tiny dirt yard does not represent ethical or sustainable farming. With this said, I guess that it all depends on how lazy the farmer is . . .
If said farmer does not let his barnyard birds out of the coop until noon, chances are the hens’ laying boxes will be full of quality eggs. But, if said chickens are let out to pasture, the said “lazy farmer” must start the process of finding and gathering all of the eggs that the hens have deposited around the yard, and carefully get them to the barn or kitchen to wash.
Pastured eggs are seasonal — the hens lay less as the days get shorter. In industrial confined egg operations they use artificial lights and a horrible practice called forced molting to overcome this. That means that starting in October, egg production declines and by November, may be half what it is in the summer. However, while the ladies are resting and not earning their keep, they are eating even more expensive grains because of the cold weather. That’s another reason why pastured eggs cost more.

Not everything he says is entirely accurate - for example our hens are never locked up in their sheds and yet the vast majority of them lay their eggs in nest boxes. We don't have to find the eggs in the 'yard' (or paddock in our case) and we never need to wash our eggs -because they aren't dirty.
You can read the rest at:

We have asked the William Angliss catering school in Melbourne to consider including farm visits to different egg production facilities so budding chefs can understand the different production systems and see why the qualityof eggs varies.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Feeding the world

There's nothing new under the sun. The world's major corporations are trying to tell us that genetically modified plants, artificial fertilisers, pesticides and factory farming techniques are essential if we are to feed the world in the coming decades.

We are told that the population explosion means that we must embrace ever-more intensive practices.

Possibly one of the first population explosions experienced in our relatively modern world happened after the agrarian revolution in England.

Thomas Malthus (1766 – 1834), a British economist was the first to point out that the advent of scientific agriculture had not solved all mankind's problems, indeed it only increased them.

While new methods allowed food production to increase in arithmetical progression (where the increase is measured by addition), population increased in a geometrical progression (where the increase is measured by multiplication).

His worst predictions were realised by 1792, which was the last time there was a surplus of English wheat for export.

Ever since, Great Britain has been a food importer. Successive British governments tried to hold the empire together to ensure food security, but everyone is aware that England is an island and if anything happens to stop imports of food, the population faces starvation.

Our Australian politicians are even less bright. They don't seem to worry much about food security. Their priorities have been about fighting wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan - anywhere really. After all it's not them who put their lives on the line. 

Let's get back to the village community, where we produce what we need to support ourselves.
If you'd like to see more of Thomas Malthus' views, have a look at:

Monday, April 25, 2011

RSPCA standard not much better than the Egg Corp

The RSCPA's free range egg standards are almost as much of a consumer con as the current standards of the Egg Corp Assured program and the new standards being proposed by the Australian Egg Corporation.

At least the RSPCA imposes a maximum outdoor stocking density of 2,500 hens per hectare, if a rotational grazing system is able to maintain fodder cover.

The AECL acknowledges that under its current system, some farms are running up to 50,000 chickens per hectare.

Under the new version of the Egg Corporation standards, it proposes to limit stocking density to a maximum of 20,000 birds per hectare.

Both the AECL and the RSPCA allow beak trimming of birds.

The standards of the Free Range Farmers Association limit outdoor stocking density to 750 birds per hectare and beak trimming or de-beaking is prohibited.

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry only allows beak trimming as a last resort if other management methods have failed to prevent feather pecking or cannibalism in a flock. It imposes a maximum outdoor stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare, but does allow a higher level if pasture growth can be maintained. It doesn't specify an upper limit and it's that loophole which is exploited by some intensive farms and allows them to get away with massive overstocking. No-one enforces the requirements.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Losing top soil

Last year, the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service estimated that the rate of soil erosion on agricultural land averaged only 5.2 tons per acre per year in Iowa and 3.9 tons per acre per year across the Corn Belt. On the surface, this data was reassuring, because it suggested erosion was within the so-called “sustainable rate.” But a more precise look udertaken through a project run by Iowa State University shows that these statewide or regional estimates are masking the serious damage that occurs when larger storms hit.
“When a storm hits vulnerable or poorly protected soil, fields lose more soil in a single day than is supposed to be sustainable for the whole year, or even decades,” said the University's program head. “If we had the same kind of information for other intensive corn-growing states, the picture would be the same or worse. Alarm bells should be going off across the Corn Belt.”
Farmers are planting fencerow-to-fencerow in response to high crop prices that are likely here to stay. Misguided mandates for corn ethanol production add fuel to the fire, and flawed government farm and insurance subsidies clear the way for all-out production with little regard for what happens to the soil, water and wildlife habitat.
We don't get subsidies in Australia, but there is no reason to believe that things are any better here.
More details at:

Friday, April 08, 2011

What's really in an egg?

Quite apart from the colouring additives that most egg farms use in the feed they give to their hens, now farms are being urged to add a fly control agent, cyromazine to the feed. It is recommended to use it every day for four to six weeks, then break for a similar period before starting the cycle again.

There is a three day withholding period for meat birds, so they should not be fed the additive for three days prior to slaughter (which is usually when they are around six weeks old). But there is no withholding period for eggs!

Interestingly, manure from hens which have fed this insecticide, should not be spread on land used for growing vegetables at rates greater than four tonnes per hectare.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Milking the cash cow

We agree totally with comments by Paul Kerin from the Melbourne Business School on the reaction of some suppliers (especially the factory egg farmers and the Australian Egg Corporation) to the supermarket price war.
His comments can be seen here:

Friday, April 01, 2011

Aust Egg Corp is a bigger threat to farmers than the supermarkets

Free range farmers throughout Australia have lodged a submission with the Senate Inquiry into supermarket discounting. We reckon that the big players who are complaining about Coles' decision to cut their margins  on home brand eggs are only whingeing because of their own greed.

Here's part of the submission from FREPAA Inc.

The Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia Inc., is a national body directly representing free range egg farmers in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Our members are required to meet all State and Federal legislative requirements and the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry provides the basis for minimum animal welfare compliance.

Each State affiliate maintains its own standards and auditing procedures.

Our members are concerned that current complaints by the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd. over the actions of Coles Supermarket in cutting the price of its home brand 'free range' eggs have been designed to divert attention from AECL's own actions.

It is disingenuous for the egg corporation to claim that price cutting by Coles will damage the industry and reduce consumer choice.

The free range egg industry is under far more serious threat from AECL's plans to introduce new standards to allow intensively farmed eggs to be labelled as 'free range'.

A new set of standards has been developed which ignores the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry and all international standards. It seeks to allow an increase in farm stocking densities from1500 birds per hectare to 20,000 hens per hectare and to approve the automatic de-beaking or beak trimming of hens.

If this proposed standard is approved, it will open the door for intensive poultry farms to mislead consumers by labelling their eggs as 'free range'. They are keen to do this as it will enable them to charge a premium without incurring significantly higher costs.

This threat is far more serious for the industry throughout Australia than any decision by a supermarket to reduce the price of a home brand product.

There is no compulsion on AECL members or other egg producers to supply eggs for the generic lines marketed by Coles, Woolworths or any retailer. It is clearly an option for egg producers to follow the lead set by Fosters and refuse to supply their product if they are unhappy with the price for which their goods are being sold.

Discerning egg buyers are already suspicious of eggs sold in supermarkets and they are aware that it is extremely unlikely that any eggs sold for $4.00 a dozen could really be what consumers understand as 'free range'.

The proposal by the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd to adopt a new standard has the potential to damage the credibility of egg farmers and is likely to destroy consumer confidence in an industry which has already undergone major problems with egg substitution and deliberate mislabelling.