Happy free range animals produce the goods on Southern Downs
WHEN happy chickens can cross the paddock to get to a new, green patch of grass, the eggs they lay are brighter and better than those laid under stress.
That's the philosophy guiding farming at Eggcettera, a farm just outside Allora, which is home to just under 1000 happy chickens.
Co-owner Tim Somes was working in a mining company in Brisbane just before starting the operation in 2014 with his wife Toni and colleague, Nick Proud.
The source of inspiration for the career change was his son Gus, who owned a small egg business at the time.
Gus owned 20-30 chickens and Mr Somes was always being asked if he had any eggs to spare.
He started delivering them into Brisbane and began to realise the importance people were starting to place on where their food comes from.
Mr Somes decided to buy up his son's chickens and expand to an initial flock of 400, vowing to place ethics and sustainability of the forefront of the farm from the very beginning.
"I was involved in the feedlot industry and it was something I wanted to stay well clear of," he said.
"I thought there's obviously a better way to produce meat and eggs without utilising the intensive production system."
Each chicken at Eggcettera enjoys about 10-14 square meters of grass to roam around in and rotational grazing means they constantly get fresh patches.
Mr Somes said the chickens were housed in mobile sheds that are towed to fresh grass once a week, so they cover a hectare of new grass every six weeks.
"The chicken has got the ability to replicate its natural behaviours from having a dust bath roosting in a tree," he said.
"The birds can scratch for worms or have a bit of a peck at grass seed," he said.
Mr Somes said the eggs produced proved the advantages of the lifestyle.
"The eggs are collected twice daily and they're very fresh," he said.
"It's a good coloured yolk but particularly after a flush of grass they tend to be a lot brighter in the yolk."
About 99percent of the stock produced on the property is transported to Brisbane, but the travelling does not mean sacrificing quality.
"They're (the eggs) no older than a week when they're delivered into Brisbane," he said.
Over the past three years the farm has also diversified its offering of animals, with pork, beef, sheep and goat also raised on Eggcettera land.
Just like his alternative egg production practices, Mr Somes was eager to offer something a little different to meat eaters by utilising upcycling.
He had heard about French farmers feeding cherries to their pigs to offer a unique flavour.
With a pecan farmer right next door, he decided to utilise the secondary nuts in the pigs' food.
After a lot of trial and error, he eventually came up with a formula that worked.
"We ended up getting lovely pork that has a lovely succulent intramuscular fat and cracking and a lovely nutty taste," he said.
Pecans are not the only things upcycled, Mr Somes also feeds the Angus steers spent beer malt and uses cows to graze the grass on the farm that would otherwise be hard to reach.
"I think it's important to have a point of difference and at the same time do the right thing by the farm and the environment in general," Mr Somes said.
Mr Somes believes attitudes around food production are changing, as people become more educated about about the benefits of ethical practices.
"Instead of people saying the eggs are too dear, they're now recognising the fact they're paying for fair dinkum free range, in essence they're buying a credit in raising animals ethically."
Social media has also helped the Eggcettera team spread the word about the story behind their stock.
Mr Somes said the farm had a loyal band of followers that was growing all the time, but the focus going forwards would always be on remaining sustainable and producing top quality meat and eggs.
"We're not wanting to set the world on fire, we want to remain niche with our products," he said.
"You can lose focus on quality when trying to increase quantity.
"It's been a lovely growth phase over the last few years and (we'd like to) see what other products we can come up with."
FREE RANGE FARMING NEEDS REVIEW
Free range farming is taken to new heights at Eggcettera, but Tim Somes believes current free range standards aren't high enough.
Mr Somes said the law allowed chickens to graze in the same one square meter of ground all year.
Chickens at Eggcettera enjoy 10-16 square meters of fresh grass every week.
Mr Somes said free range farms should aim for 10 square meters but legal change was difficult.
"You've got some very big players in the caged egg industry ant they're trying to maintain their investments and at the same time trying to get the market share of the free range market," he said.