Here’s an ABC news article on the setting of free range stocking limits. Definitely a topic close to our hearts!
Source Author: Brooke Neindorf
"Fifteen hundred or less per hectare is what we see as true free range...it is a good target."
That is Tom and Fiona Fryar's opinion when it comes to what eggs should be classified as free range.
They run Kangaroo Island Eggs with about 50,000 hens, raising them from one-day-old to when they produce eggs, over a farm of 5,000 acres.
These hens produce about 15,000 dozen eggs a week on the island off the South Australian coast. Mr Fryar said the system they had slowly built up over the years was what free range was all about.
"Our sheds out in the paddocks hold about 1,000 laying hens," he said.
"There are not many chooks in the sheds during the day, the only hens that are in here are the ones that are about to lay or have laid, which means there is probably only about 50 in there at each time.
"By about 3pm all the hens would have been through and laid and then they all come back in here at night to roost."
But at this stage 1,500 chickens per hectare is only a voluntary code in South Australia.
Last week state and federal ministers agreed to formulate a national mandatory standard for free range eggs.
It follows data released by Choice showing many shoppers buying free range were not getting what they thought they were paying for.
Mr Fryar agrees that consumers are paying too much for what he believes is not real free range.
"Consumers struggle to work out what is true free range, so others market their eggs the same as what we do when really there is no lawful description of what free range is," he said.
"We know that we are going by the voluntary code of practice that has been around since 2002 and we are sticking with that.
"Anything more than that and I think the consumers are getting ripped off if they are buying eggs from these bigger companies."
Mr Fryar said it was about letting the consumer know about what was happening on farm.
"When they go to the supermarket and they have a look at the array of eggs in there it would be so hard because everyone is telling the same story.
"We have to get our story out, it is harder for us to produce a dozen eggs because of our high cost situation that we farm our hens in and the consumers are going along paying that extra dollar for true free range eggs."
We know that we are going by the voluntary code of practice that has been around since 2002 and we are sticking with that...anything more than that and I think the consumers are getting ripped off.Tom Fryar, KI Eggs
The Fryar's story has reached a lot of customers and now they do not need to do any marketing.
"Everyone knows we are true free range and consumers just can't get enough of our eggs and we have kept expanding and expanding...we have just bought more land.
"We have had a lot of interest from China, we had some guys come over and ask us to double our production so that they could take our eggs into China.
"So that is something we might look at down the track."
Mr Fryar said they were proud of the way that nearly everything that happened on farm was completed by them and their 22 workers.
"We grow our own grain, do all our own crushing and feed it all back to the hens, we build all our own sheds," he said.
"We have three full time egg collectors and they are going seven days a week, we have our own mechanical and engineer guys, we have our own feed mixing guys and then there is the packing room."
Mr Fryar said this way they could keep track of everything that was going into producing their eggs.
"We believe if we leave anything to anybody else that is the weak link in the chain, that is what is going to break down.
"The only thing we are not in control of is delivering our eggs in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide."
The Fryar's also have 32 other workers on farm that are on the clock 24/7. That is their Maremma guardian dogs that keep a watchful eye over all the hens and protect them from other animals.
"They are so good at their job that we wouldn't actually be running free range hens if we didn't have them," Mr Fryar said.
"There are so many eagles flapping around here and they hover around hoping they can get a chook, but the dogs are on duty all the time and they also keep the wild cats away at night."
He said the dogs had an instinct to protect.
"We get them as pups at eight weeks of age and we then get the hens used to the dogs and the dogs used to the hens and the bonding process starts.
"They are wonderful dogs and it doesn't take much to fire them up to protect their hens."
Mr Fryar said they would continue to dedicate their farm to what they believed was the real definition of free range.
"Looking back from where we first started and looking at it now everything is working and it is sustainable, which is very important," he said.
"We are on a train that we can't stop and it is a good journey."