THE term ‘free range eggs’ may bring to mind images of happy healthy hens, roaming freely in the fresh air and sunshine.
In many cases, birds do live this way, but for others, the reality of ‘free range’ is not so pretty.
“Ten thousand chickens per hectare, or one chicken per one sq m is what is considered free range,” says Andrew Cameron, of Possum Creek Eggs.
“It doesn’t matter if there is grass on the ground or not, you could have chickens on bare dirt, beaks cut off and that can be labelled free range.”
The lack of clarity around the term is what prompted Andrew to label his own hens ‘open range,’ which he says better describes what happens at Possum Creek Farm.
His 900 birds have more than 20 hectares on which to roam, scratching and foraging in fresh green pasture every day. They peck freely at bugs and insects, and dust bathe just as they are supposed to.
The birds are moved regularly around the farm, a method that’s best for both the chickens and the land, Andrew says. There is no debeaking of birds which has become an industry norm. The practice is used to stop cannibalism among birds – but when they live a stress-free life with room to move, Andrew says it is not necessary.
Leaving beaks intact is not only an ethical practice – it has other advantages too. It makes it easier for the chickens to eat the varied diet that nature intended, supplying them with nutrition that most chickens simply don’t get. As Andrew puts it: ‘what goes in to the chicken goes into the egg’, and this is clear in the eggs his chickens produce; bright coloured, tasty eggs that are full of goodness.
Andrew, 32, says he sees himself as both a farmer and an educator. “What we always set out to do here was to reconnect people to their food source.”
Possum Creek Eggs is at New Brighton Farmers Market
Story by Kate O’Neil – Byron Shire News