Having the freedom to spend your day roaming over lush green pastures before retiring to a cosy, custom-built caravan for the night is the foundation of the great Australian retirement dream. Fortunately for the feathered residents of Little Creek Pastured Eggs, they do not have to wait that long — this is the lifestyle they enjoy during their working life!
Noelle Estermann and Steve Chisholm were not fulfilling a lifelong dream of being egg farmers when they bought their 100-acre property in Dewars Pool. Instead, a need to caretake and nourish their overgrown paddocks lead Noelle to research natural ways to fertilise. When chicken manure presented itself as the ideal solution, additional stumbling blocks in relation to supply and transportation of the fertiliser resulted in her purchasing a chicken caravan; streamlining the process of obtaining the manure by getting it direct from the source.
The chicken caravan is the brainchild of NSW farmer Daniel O’Brien and won Australian Farm Invention of the Year in 2013. It combines a sleeping area with roll-away nesting boxes and conveyor belt for easy egg collection. The caravan is then hitched up to a vehicle and towed around the property as needed, providing the chickens with fresh ground while leaving behind a nutrient-rich mixture to feed and repair the recently-vacated paddock.
Little Creek Pastured Eggs is home to 900 Hyline hens. 450 of these are currently in production, turning out around 380 eggs per day. The remaining chickens are young ones in training, familiarising themselves with the caravan life and ready to step up to production when ready.
The chickens and their caravan are rotated through 5 paddocks over the property. Protected by a 50m x 50m solar electric fence (and their alpaca guards, Starskie and Hutch), they live as any backyard chicken would, scratching and roving through the space, blissfully unaware they are production chickens at all!
The chickens are also fortunate that when their (relatively short) production life comes to an end they are not met with the same fate that awaits their caged counterparts. Noelle explains, “When they have been on the property for 12 months we sell them to their forever homes, people who love chooks and will have them free range in backyards.”
While the chicken caravan certainly increases the efficiency of egg-farming, there are still plenty of hands-on tasks that are conducted by Noelle and Steve. Each egg is weighed and inspected by hand before being packed for delivery, and there is some finesse involved in training the poultry for life in a caravan. Lights on timers are used to encourage the girls to come into the caravan to roost at night, and a proactive approach is taken to ensure they lay their eggs in the correct spot.
“As soon as these girls start laying I spend about an hour to an hour and half every morning walking around and conducting what we call nest box training. As soon as they crouch down, or you see them getting comfortable, you pick them up and place them in the nesting box. The process takes about 10 days,” says Noelle.
Noelle literally goes the extra mile by conducting the 300-kilometre round trip delivery run herself every week; appreciating the chance to connect to her customers. “I enjoy delivering our eggs to all our customers, as opposed to using a delivery service. We always have a good chat if time allows and we have funny greetings such as, ‘How are you today Noelle?’ I answer, ‘Not too foul!’,” she laughs.
If the recent overhaul of eg
g-labelling legislation has left you scratching your head trying to make an ethical purchase, you can simplify the decision by choosing pastured eggs from a local producer such as Little Creek Pastured Eggs. You can find their eggs at Bindoon IGA, Bullsbrook Meat and Gourmet and online at the Northern Valleys Locavore Store. You can keep up to date with activities on the farm through their Facebook page @littllecreekpasturedeggs.