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Wild about free-range

Posted by on 29/06/2018

Eggs at the farm are sorted and checked for flaws, before being packaged. Picture: Dylan RobinsonCONTENTED cows might give better milk — or so the claim goes — but contented hens definitely lay better eggs.
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That’s the opinion of Cheryl Graham, someone who is definitely in a position to comment.

Ms Graham has a degree in agricultural science and she and her husband Tim Ekberg — apart from running agriculture consultancy businesses — run an egg farm called Wild Hen Farm, in the Myrrhee Valley in Victoria.

“We have about 900 truly free-range hens,” she said.

“They are grass fed and also have access to commercial pellets and shellgrit.

“Consequently they get to scratch around and eat as they choose, as real hens should.

“These hens have not been de-beaked, because that enables them to feed on the grass.

“If they were bored they would tend to attack each other and we would have fatalities; we have had none.”

Ms Graham said research had shown the eggs of grass-fed hens, when compared to caged eggs, have 2.76 times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids, twice the amount of vitamin E and 38per cent higher vitamin A.

And there is no doubt the isa brown and bond brown hens are free-range, in every sense of the word.

They are run in two flocks of 500 and 400, in areas surrounded by electric fences, which keeps foxes out, of about half a hectare each.

These “pens” are moved each week over the area of 18ha dedicated to the egg business, out of a property size of 68ha.

Each area contains a “mobile van”, where the hens roost and lay, as well as a pellet feeder.

A range of pasture grows on the property and they are in the process of sowing new grasses.

“This is what people expect when you describe the hens as being free-range,” Ms Graham said.

“Not 20,000 hens in a shed.”

The eggs are collected at 10.30am and sorted, screened and packed according to their size. The couple began the business in January 2013 and now send 3600 eggs to the top end of the Melbourne market each week and 2200 regionally to butchers and restaurants at Beechworth, Bright, Wangaratta and Thurgoona.

“We are very lucky in that we are able to send the eggs to Melbourne thanks to Gamze Smokehouse in Wangaratta, who distribute the eggs for us,” Ms Graham said.

She said the business would never be big enough to support herself and her husband.

“We use free-range hens principles, incorporating some of the equipment used by the major commercial operations, such as water and feed vessels,” Ms Graham said.

“And although it is a seven-day, weekly operation we still need to operate our agriculture consultancy businesses.”

Apparently it is not only the hens who are content.

“The hens are very therapeutic and I love being with them,” Ms Graham said.

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