How do you know when you’re buying eggs labelled “Free Range” that they are *actually* free range? I’ve heard all sorts of anecdotal stories of people switching eggs in supermarkets to get “free range” or “organic” eggs at a cheaper “caged egg” price. However, it seems that the dishonestly extends to the producers themselves! Recently the ACCC prosecuted a WA egg producer for labelling their eggs as free range when a substantial proportion of their eggs were clearly not. Cartons were also labelled as “farm range” or “fresh range”, further confusing the consumer as to what they were actually purchasing.
This kind of misleading conduct is nothing new with the ACCC fining an egg producer over the substitution of conventional eggs in cartons labelled organic back in 2007.
As a consumer, when you think of “free range” chickens/eggs you’d like to think of happy chickens grazing and scratching in lush paddocks, coming and going as they please.
According to http://www.freerangefarmers.com.au/hen-welfare.html ….
Overstocking is the biggest problem in the egg industry
Probably more than 90% of the eggs sold in Australa as ‘free range’ do not meet the standards expected by consumers. Research has shown that buyers believe the hens are not de-beaked or beak trimmed and the hens roam on pasture all day. But unfortunately that is not the reality on most egg farms. Nearly all chicks are beak trimmed at hatcheries and many farms have stocking densities well above the limit of hens 1500 per hectare set by the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry.
FRFA member farms have a stocking density limit of 750 birds per Ha.
These chickens have been severely beak-trimmed. This picture is from the website of a 'free range' farm that was accredited by the Australian Egg Corporation
Clearly there’s lots of issues surrounding what consumers consider to be “free range” & acceptable animal welfare standards and what is actually happening on the farms.
So, what’s my suggestion for improving chicken welfare and having delicious eggs?
First and foremost- keep your own! Backyard chicken tractors are becoming extremely popular. Having a couples of “girls” out the back can satisfy all your needs. Chicken tractors can be home made using recycled materials (google it!) or I’ve seen some brilliant tractors made by the Borenore/Nashdale Men’s Shed group.
One of the principles of home permaculture is that whatever your endeavour, it must achieve at least 3 outcomes. Keeping chickens at home easily fulfils that criteria.
1. They provide you with nutritious eggs
2. They can clean up your kitchen scraps
3. They keep your lawn trimmed
4. You can pop your chicken tractor on your spent veggie beds and the chickens will clean up the weeds, scratch & aerate the soil and fertilise at the same time
5. Great experience for kids (if you have them) to learn about the responsibility of keeping pets and where our food comes from. There’s nothing better than cooking fresh scrambled eggs with the kids who have just collected the eggs.
If keeping chickens is just not do-able for you then start a conversation and get to know your local producers. We’re proud to be in partnership with The Happy Chicken Co. from Parkes. Owners, Andy & Michele, are passionate about what they do and love to have a chat about their chickens.
You can find The Happy Chicken Co. eggs fresh in store every Wednesday.
… and I haven’t even started on the meat chicken industry! I’ll save that for another day….