Sustainable egg farming BEGA NSW Presentation


Yes I will just talk you about just a bit of my history. When I was about 12 my dad bought me six hens and that was great, but one turned out to be a rooster, so that’s a picture of me and Wally the rooster. And one thing that I learnt really quickly (and I will be talking on a bit today), is having birds on grass. I think I’m preaching to the converted here. So I learned pretty quick that if I had all the chooks just in a chook run, and never move them they would turn that area to dirt really, really fast. So one thing, together with my dad we thought: “let’s put them in movable coops”, so we made some movable coops there. There’s mum and dads house, and there is thick grass, and the grass was always really, really tall and it was always too tall, we had to start mowing it. So it was one thing I learned really quick, that to have healthy chickens, move them regularly on fresh grass. So these were the chicken coops that I made myself, they are just, they are made out of PVC part, 2 meters long and 1 meter wide, and then just got your poly pipe over just to provide some support. And I think there is about four in this picture here and I was just loving breeding, breeding chickens and then I go sell them at the local farmers market. So that’s me and I got chickens for sale in cages and have mates helping me. So that was my dream, it was just like breeding chickens, and I was never really into the show birds I was always into – well – they’ve gotta pay for themself, they’ve gotta feed us, and feed everyone else so I was the kid that would harvest the roosters and collect the eggs from the hens. So, as I got a bit older, one of my dreams come true. I got to work on a local free range egg farm, and it was probably one of Australia’s original pastured egg farms with movable chicken coops, this farm the brand is still going today: “Organic Wise” and they were a certified organic farm, and, so I learned a lot of techniques from them. Some good things and also some bad things. So, they got an old shed here that put together themselves, really cheap, and they got nesting boxes both ends and in the nesting boxes sawdust and straw. So my job, I was employed to move the birds every couple of days with the big 70 and 80 horsepower tractor, and then go to them two or three times a day and collect eggs, because they had straw and sawdust in the nesting boxes. And I learned really quick how long would took to collect eggs. Because they were not rollaway nesting boxes (which we have today), the nesting boxes, you have to physically go to each individual nesting box, get 8 or 10 eggs, go the next one and get 8 or 10 eggs, and they had about 2.000 birds so it was taking me about 6 to 7 hours a day that’s just to collect your eggs. And then some of those were dirty, and then someone else washed and packed them. So I learnt really quickly. This is a labour intensive business. So you fast forward 7 years. When you work for someone else, you probably relate to this, You think: “if I had this business, you know what?” “I would run it this way, and I would get rid of that and get rid of that” and you have your own thing. So I thought “You know what? I want to run my own farm” so I approached to dairy farmer, he was an organic dairy farmer so I’ve got this concept, I’ve worked on another free range egg farms, bit I want to do something a bit different. And I was pretty young at that time, so he said “Yes, let’s do it, I’ll give you a go”. So I did something something pretty crazy then, I wouldn’t recommend anyone do I bought 2,000 day-old chickens. So, if anyone is thinking about starting some egg farm, don’t go out and buy 2.000 chickens on Monday And ring me, asking “What do I do now?” So I didn’t have any established market, so I didn’t have any contact with the wholesalers, was just a young guy without a clue. So I didn’t buy them all in one batch, (that was one of the wise things I did) I got 800, and in a month later 600, and another month later another 600. So I had three batches, so I didn’t wake up one morning and had 2,000 eggs and go “What do I do know?” So I’ll teach you a few things we learned really fast. What we learned about unsustainable egg farming. And that’s probably my message to you today. It’s great to show you what does work, but I’ll show you what doesn’t work and why because otherwise you might go out and go “Oh, no I’ll have a go myself!” So I’d already learned that I had to keep the chickens on grass. so to show you an example here, I got about 800 chickens, this was the first, first lot they were about six weeks old. This is quite hard to see, there’s a fence there’s a little electric fence through here, and at one side it turned to dirt, and the other side is still grass. Now, that’s after 6 weeks and probably three of that weeks they’re actually outside eating grass. So we knew we had to go to movable sheds, so my brother, so we found out that it was unsustainable. so my brother came to the business in about this stage, and he had a bit of engineering and welding experience so we came up with a shed design that we built up on skids because I had worked on other farms with a shed on skids, and I thought “Okay, this is great, we can tow it around the paddock” And we didn’t really know the best design for the shed, we’d sorta had ideas in mind. And we thought this was great, but one thing we forgot is because it’s so heavy, it needed an 80 horse power tractor to move it. Now, if you have heard Nick & Rob, that’s not sustainable! With diesel prices, to drive all the way down the paddock, move the shed, and you might only move it 20 meters And hop back in the tractor and drive all the way back up to the house, you go: “Yeah, this will be profitable real fast!” So we worked out that’s unsustainable. But we used that shed for brooding chickens later on, so it was a wise use of shed. So we thought “We’ve gotta build something on wheels”. So some other things we noticed, it’s like when you’ve got 10 chickens in the backyard you can, the imputs aren’t as high as if you have 2,000 chickens. So, it’s hard to seeing this picture but I had 20 litre water drums just down somewhere in the paddock which I filled up every couple of days but it come summer time, you’re almost filling them up twice a day and then, that’s unsustainable. Also we had small feed bins, so I put small feed bins in the paddock, and then grab a bucket, and then hand feeding out. I saved time, but you spend more time filling feed bins rather than actually feeding chickens So at about this point we started to design what we now call the Chicken Caravan. And now, what it is, That’s my brother Evan in this workshop we rented. It’s an 8 meter long shed, and 2 and half meters wide so it’s a bit shorter than a semi – trailer, it’s got a single axle underneath it. So we wanted something that could be just moved with your ordinary farm vehicle. And so we put the design together, we wanted rollaway nesting boxes, we wanted a conveyor belt, and the main goal with this Chicken Caravan was to cut down anything we could do to save a bit more time on the farm we did. And then December 2010 on Christmas Eve, we had our first Chicken Caravan. We didn’t even know how was going to look like until it turned up. And a bit short time later we were like “You know what? It looks a bit like a caravan!” So that’s where the name came from. Pretty original. So this was great from the outside. We, it had the conveyor belt through the middle and it had nesting boxes down each side which rollaway so the birds just sit in the nesting boxes, they laid their eggs, that rolled down to the conveyor and then you come and just wind the eggs in off the conveyor belt. And it’s hard to see that, but our first egg laid on the conveyor, and I remember looking down that conveyor belt after the months and months of feeding these chickens and feeding them and all this hard work going. A chook actually knows where to lay I thought “I’d hate to do this and find eggs all over out paddock”, but the chooks, the chooks had voted and thought: “You know what? We are going to lay here”. So that’s a good thing. Because we had never made a Chicken Caravan before, we didn’t know what was going to work and wasn’t going to work. So we found out soon that we had manure build up on the tire guards because we had like a flat top, so we thought “That’s not cool”. And the nesting boxes, we were pretty clever in designing them so they swing, so if you are on uneven ground they would sort of float to be leveled, because that was one of the hardest thing, to get a rollaway nesting box into a movable shed. But we didn’t do a lock – off system, so you get 15 birds at on side and the nesting boxes would slowly sort of tilt that way, and you get a few over that side. So that’s not cool! You want a bird to hop in there and feel nice and secure, not like “Whoa, we are on the ship!” and there’s a bit of swaying around. And the main thing we found: the hens were sitting in the nesting boxes at night and if you got a few chooks, and they do their droppings there and then you get 30 or 40 chooks use that nesting box the next day and we had dirty eggs. We thought “We’ve got a rollaway system”, “We are gonna have beautiful clean eggs” It wasn’t to be. So we – it’s hard to see, but that’s a stack full of eggs, there’s probably 200 or 300 eggs there and they were all dirty. And they took about 30 seconds per egg to wash. So you can just add up the minutes: hours and hours a day just washing eggs. So, what started with a great idea we thought: “Hang on, there’s a few flaws to this, we’ve got to go deeper” So that stage we went back to the Chicken Caravan and thought how can we make a system that works well for the birds and works well for us. So we implemented in the nesting boxes these nesting box gates and they’re hooked up to a a ram, and actuator and on a timer. So at 5 in the morning these gates opened up, so the nesting boxes are open for business and then at 5 in the afternoon they automatically close up so no birds can go in there at night. Now this system (and I have to give the credit to my brother Evan) it works off a timer, which is powered by a battery, which is charged by solar panels. So there’s no external things you have to plug in. And you just set it and forget it, and you can change the timer when the days get longer or shorter So, for the first time, we were starting to roll eggs in and we were cleaning less than 8% of our eggs. Our profit margin went through the roof. It was huge. Because we were just spending hours and hours and hours just cleaning eggs. The other thing we built into the Chicken Caravan was water tanks, so that it was raining, hitting the roof and running straight of the back so we put a gutter on, we put internal water tanks and drinkers on the front of the Chicken Caravan. The third thing we did was develop feed trailers and now that we visit so many farms around Australia, the main place where poultry farmers waste time is grain. Like you handle grain four, five, up to six times It comes in on a truck you put it a little over up to the silo, out of the silo, back into an over into the shed, from the shed to the back of the the ute you drive the ute down and in 20- litre buckets, and you feed that to your birds. And most farmers are doing this day in, day out. So we thought, “If we can get a feeder trailer, like a car feeder, but on wheels, road registered, we can just tow it to town drop a bulker bag of grain in, tow straight back to the paddock, and the hens eat straight out of it. We just take the little covers off, that seals it up. The hens eat straight from it. So we are not even touching the grain anymore. So, November 2011 someone saw our Chicken Caravan and said: “Are you guys gonna sell this?” And we were like: “No, we are just looking forward to building this last one for us, and we are gonna get egg farming, this is gonna be great!” And they said “You really should sell this, there’s farmers probably that would love, that would want them.” So we weren’t real sure about it, so we thought “Let’s turn up to a field day, and we’ll see”. So we turned up to “Farming Small Areas Expo” (very similar to this one), in Richmond in Sydney. And that’s me standing in front for the photo for “The Land” newspaper. and we sold that actual Caravan to farmers out west in Dunedoo. And so we thought, “Okay, someone… other people might like these as well” So we did a little bit more marketing, and then every… We sold a few more Caravans and every one we’d made we’d always improve just a little bit more because we get another bit of feedback from our farm, or other farmers and we kept on developing and developing this product just to take time out to the extent where most farmers now have a Chicken Caravan. They say “it’s 20 minutes a day, I feed them, I collect the eggs, and I’m out” And it’s saving them, per Chicken Caravan, saves them 6 hours a week, So, just October last year, we won “The Land Farm Invention Of the Year” with the Chicken Caravan. And the judges went over it, we won the Regionals and then we went on to win the Nationals. And that wasn’t something we really set out to do, we more thought “let’s just enter it, it might be a bit of publicity, and have a chat to some people and that would be it”. And then to take that out and to be recognized as having a piece of farming equipment that can make farming easier and more profitable for Australia. It was just such an honour to take that out, take out that prize. So we work with a number of clients all of around Australia now. On the first of January this year, our business partners with our egg farm because we’d established the markets and gotta set up they actually decided to buy out our side of it, they were dairy farmers and they wanted to diversify the chickens like years before I’d even approached them. And now that I had an egg farm set up on their property, they were very happy to buy us out. And now we just work with farmers all over Australia we are now doing international projects, setting up poultry farms some in third world, some in developed countries, of the world. So, these are just some of our clients, this is the “Possum Creek Farm” at Byron Bay. I think Nick Higgins, you might have had something to do with this farm? It’s got beautiful (it’s hard to see in the photos) but its got beautiful swails that collect the water, this is just an amazing farm. The owner of this farm, he’s a businessman from the Gold coast and it was his way of giving back, he wanted to actually produce sustainable food and also teach people, so they bring out some amazing speakers from around the world and have open days and field days. You can check them out on Facebook and on the Internet This farm here, this is Tom’s Paddock in Glenburn, Victoria and everyone farms or gets the Chicken Caravan they all got their own reason, so in Tom he is 27 years of age, he is a third generation farmer, but with a couple a hundred acres he is running beef he couldn’t sustain and keep the family farm. So he looked at other means of income to keep his livelyhood, so when he gets married and has kids, they’ve still got the family farm. And through chickens, that gave him a weekly income and more cash flow, more profit to be able to sustain that. And now he’s got a website selling eggs online, and I think he’s selling them to Melbourne. And now he is using the eggs to sell his beef through, direct to market, through those same avenues. So for him, it was a tool for him to keep his farm. This is Gippsland Free Range Eggs, down in Gippsland, Victoria. They first rung us back in 2011. They ordered some electric fencing off us, and said “oh we’ve seen your Chicken Caravan, we will never need one of those” And they had their couple of hundred chooks, and they said: “We are building our own shed” and we said “Yep, no worries, we’ll send it off”. And it was about six months later after they finished building their own shed and added up what it had actually cost, and realised: “hang on, we’d better look into this, because we can’t keep up with the demand of eggs” because pastured free range egg industry is a consumer driven industry, it’s no longer the farmers trying to sell. The consumers are now getting hold of this. So they bought their first Caravan and think “Oh, one day down the track will order the second one” And that was just six months later, due to the demand of their business And they went out as they were delivering their second Chicken Caravan, Marnie gave me a video interview because we do lot of our teaching online and through video and said “down the track we will get a third, we don’t know when it was”. It was eight weeks later. Because of demand, they put new birds into this new Caravan, and then the demand for free range eggs, (ethically produced pastured eggs), was just growing so rapidly. And they’ve now got three Caravans. We popped in there two days ago, and she was like… She just walked out of the egg shed and said: “I’ve just packed the eggs, but the eggs that were already laid this morning are already sold” And also said “We might be after a fourth Caravan”. So for them, husband and wife, their parents had the farm, and then cut it up, so they have only got 20 acres. And again, you can’t make money out of 20 acres with beef or with sheep. So they were looking at another option, purely to show their two boys (Lochie and Drew), that there is a future in farming, they said whether they want to go that way or not when they grow up. But it gives them an opportunity for the next generation but they said before they had a system that worked: They would put the kids to bed and then goodnight, and they go out into the egg packing shed, and just clean eggs for hours. And go out in the egg packing shed, and just clean eggs and they do that night, after night, after night. Because they didn’t had a system to get clean eggs. So I suppose, the main message I want to send you home today is whatever your system is, don’t look at “Oh, let’s go buy a washing machine to wash these eggs”, look back one step to go “how can we get the clean eggs straight from the hens?” And that was really, our goal “How can we get the clean eggs?” and “What are the other components that is just chewing into the time” Because, all of you have got farms you know, there’s always other stuff to do and we didn’t want a system that, this is just an extra chore at the end of it. So most of these farms were also running beef or sheep or some of them orchids, And we’ve got farms all around Australia just with stories like this. So this is Oxhill Organics Farm, this was the farm that my brother and I started back in 2010. And the reason they bought us out, as I said, like they were dairy farmers and this provided an opportunity for the next generation. They’re not sure where the price of milk is going, but they now have a second income stream, with which they can keep their farm sustainable.

4 thoughts on “Sustainable egg farming BEGA NSW Presentation

  1. This is brilliant! I know it's designed for well established farmers. Have you considered making a Chicken Caravan 50, or 10 or something for backyard chicken owners. Instead of a costly coop, this would make a really nice small moveable item that could help even out the wear on a backyard. Just thinking out loud here. If you marketed it to the U.S. there's lots of people who would love to treat chickens so well. A fresh small-farm egg will beat out a grocery store egg every time, once people get the chance to taste for themselves. Great ideas! Good luck ,and God bless. 😀

  2. If you decide to manufacture these as flat packs, you could get them built in China, but if you do this split the construction among several factories so they don't copy your idea get your own warehouse space to ensemble the kits. That way you can go into mass production and export around the world, wages are to exspense to do it anymore

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