At the end of our street there’s a 20 acre property producing free-range eggs. Neighbours have suggested I buy my eggs from them. I’ve been putting it off because I was worried about what I might see there. My idea of ‘free-range’ mightn’t be the same as someone else’s and if hens were being treated badly at the end of the street, I didn’t want to know about it.
A new neighbour, who hadn’t been there, suggested we wander down and take a look. So with empty egg cartons and purses in hand, off we went.
Two huge sheds and a smaller one, which turned out to be a packing room with adjacent cold storage. We bought our eggs—a dozen for me at $4.50 and a tray of 30 for the neighbour at $10. Not bad considering their size. I’ve been paying $4.50 for a dozen 60 gm, free-range eggs in the greengrocer. I weighed mine when I got home and the dozen averaged 75 gm each. They were so big I couldn’t close the carton.
I asked if we could see the hens. A shed which seemed to be the size of a Bunnings warehouse was packed with hens, but with enough space for them to move around a bit on a dirt floor. There seemed to be a spray system, presumably to settle the dust and keep the air cool in the summer. Nest boxes lined one side of the shed. There were two sheds and we were told they had 4000 hens in total so I presume the shed we saw had about 2000 hens in it. A bit on the nose it was, but the hens were large and healthy-looking as far as I could tell.
The nicest part was that the hens are kept in the shed until late morning (because that’s where they lay their eggs) and then they’re allowed to free range outside in the sun, on a large, fenced grassy area for the rest of the day. A couple of Maremma dogs, specially trained to look after them, keep predators (mainly foxes) at bay.
As I understand the needs of poultry, the situation wasn’t ideal. Essentially a forest bird, they are happiest with an overhead canopy and there didn’t seem to be many trees around. A huge flock of 2000 birds doesn’t allow for a pecking order to develop, but maybe they band together in smaller groups where each knows the other. At least they were able to get out into the fresh air and sunshine and onto grass, where there would be the opportunity to do some serious scratching and to add a few insects to the diet.
So, another item of our diet moves from the purchased column to the locally-produced (and zero food miles) column, though I will still plan to have a few hens of my own at some stage.