Eumundi Egg and Feather Farm Visit
Sunshine Coast Organic Meats stocks eggs from Eumundi Egg and Feather. We went on a site visit in late June 2017, to get a better understanding of Biodynamic Farming, and were shown around by the owner, Susan. The Onyx Park farm is 265 acres, with 750 Australorp cross chickens and 100 Ausline Angus cattle. Over time Susan expects to increase the number of chickens to 3,000.
Hensare feed on a soya free, organic ration to supplement their foraging during the daylight hours. The eggs are certified organic by the Bio-dynamic Research Institute (Demeter). The strict conditions associated with the use of the Demeter Bio-dynamic accreditation and logo require that the hens are fed with biodynamic (BD) grain. Currently there is insufficient BD grain available on the East Coast so the hens are fed organically certified grain and eggs accredited as organic. The farm is accredited by Demeter as bio-dynamic and the pastures are maintained consistent with this practice.
The picturesque farm has three sleds of 10 metres by 3 metres and a shade structure which is 7 metres by 2 metres each sled houses 250 chickens and provides feed stations, water and shelter the sled we viewed was in a paddock of around 10 acres. The sled is moved every day to fresh ground; over the course of six months every part of the paddock will have housed the sled.
(The sled is where the chickens sleep and eat.)
(The chickens are free to leave and forage.)
The chickens are also fed clabber, which is a biodynamic raw milk allowed to sour and clot; Susan explained to us that is providing protein to chickens as an alternative to soy. Susans concerns about soy is the high plant isoflavones that mimic estrogen and compounds when consumed by humans. While Japanese are high consumers of soy, and have the highest life expectancy of any country, their soy is typically fermented.
Susan carried a fork around for most of our visit to the farm. We were shown how good quality soil has long grass roots into the clumping soil, with a healthy population of worms. While recent rainfall has been low, the soil on the hill we spent most of our time was rich, and clumped well. Susan explained how the soil has greatly improved by biodynamic farming over the last seven years.
We discussed with Susan about free range standards which require each chicken to have only one square metre on average. Free range organic farming requires no more outdoor space for chickens. The practical effect of such a high density of chickens at farms is that they live on bare dirt. Bare dirt is typically degraded compared with soil which grows plants, the very antithesis of biodynamic farming.
Susan explained that healthy soil needs to maintain grass cover. Also, the higher the density of chickens, the more pecking of chickens, and the worse conditions of chickens as they have feather and skin damage. Further, free range standards now mean that chickens only need to have meaningful access to the outdoors 8 hours a day; with overcrowded bare ground hens often prefer to stay inside the barn. Susans chickens have thirty times the area of the free-range standard.
With the techniques used by many of the dominant players in the industry, their business model can only be considered as industrial farming. Think large sheds, bare dirt, not many living organisms in the soil, and limited interaction between the chickens and the environment. By contrast, we visited a proper farm; think split posts, cattle, chickens free to leave though choosing not to.
(The soil clumps and has plenty of worms.)
(The farm is absolutely stunning.)
Susan does not de-beak her chickens, as most chicken farmers do. If a chicken is pecked by other chickens, they are isolated and allow their feathers to regrow before being re-introduced to the other chickens; on our visit, there was only one chicken in isolation.
After a years laying most farms dispose of their laying hens. Susan grows her chicks from one-day old to laying and then intends to keep them in lay for two years and says as they age they lay larger eggs, though less frequently than younger chickens. It was refreshing to see a farming practice which was clearly focused on animal welfare issues, rather than financial ones.
Susans chickens all looks exceptionally healthy, some were mingling with cattle, and were happy with human contact. Susan passionately believes that the life the chickens live has a positive impact on the eggs that are laid. We agree that Eumundi Egg and Feathers eggs taste great!
We left this farm visit seriously thinking about issues of soil quality, and animal welfare. Having so many chickens in such a small area, living on degraded soil, surely cannot produce the best tasting eggs. And even if it does, we dont want animal suffering all in the name of economics. Our children loved visiting the farm and didnt want to leave; were not sure we would actually want to take them to an industrial chicken farm.
We encourage our customers to try Eumundi Egg and Feathers eggs and consider the story of what makes them different. As free-range standards are so low, we encourage our customers to do their own research and see what sort of a farm their eggs come from.
You can find more information about Eumundi Egg and Feather here.