I record 7.30 NSW on ABC 24 when it is broadcast. I also record Landline on ABC1 when it is broadcast. I watch them later at my convenience. This week both had stories on chickens, chooks, hens or fowl. Whatever, but specifically about the way the are kept when they are used to produce commercial quantities of eggs.
If you don't know how chickens are kept when they aren't free range, then you damn well ought to find out. If you don't buy free range eggs, then you damn well ought to.
We buy our free range eggs from the el cheapo Asian green grocer. They cost about $2 less than you pay for them in the supermarket. The first time I checked, they came from a free range egg farm in South Gippsland. I checked the place on the net and it seemed legit. Now they come from Local Farms. I really ought to check that out too.
Truth in labelling is quite topical. Can I trust that a dozen eggs from the el cheapo green grocer are really free range? Of course I can. I live in Australia and nothing dodgy with labelling happens here!
In NSW there is a case before the courts regarding what is really free range. I have an image of free range as being chooks in a paddock of grass pecking away, scratching away and occasionally bothering each other. They lay their eggs under bushes and sometimes where they roost.
People who care about animals are suggesting free range should be around 700 birds per hectare. The egg producers association, the board being mainly made up of large volume egg producers, suggest that 20,000 birds per hectare is appropriate. I have not mistyped the numbers. 700 as against 20,000. Small business free range egg producers agree with the animal welfare folk's number.
The egg producer's spinner was one of the worst I have ever seen. A skilled spinner would have convinced a few people and ameliorated the argument a little. This one just made me angrier and angrier. I should go back and check the programmes and transcripts and at least give the reporter from 7.30 NSW a name and her due. She was good.
The clincher for me was when the words 'dust bowl' were mentioned. 20,000 free range hens on one hectare, how could it be anything else but a dust bowl.
Twenty thousand chickens on one hectare is not free range in the public's eyes. I am happy if you can convince me otherwise.
The outcome from the court case will be interesting. If the court agrees twenty thousand is an ok figure, then I will suggest there is little point in buying free range eggs.
Have I convinced you yet to only buy free range eggs and free range hen meat? Try this then.
I have heard of debeaking. The spinner likened it to cutting off a fingernail. The animal rights person said that there are useful nerve endings in the beaks. I don't think it was spelt out in the shows, but I guess birds are debeaked to stop them inflicting damage when they attack each other. They readily attack each other when they are stifled in close quarters and can barely move. I'd reckon debeaking would be on You Tube. I am not going to check because I don't want to see the debeaking machine in action again. Once was enough.
I am just another latte drinking inner city greenie complaining about honest farmers trying to make a living who really care for their animals on an individual basis. Or am I? I grew up on a farm. My father wasn't a bad man and did not deliberately mistreat animals, but I know what went on at farms in the sixties and seventies. It was not nice.
Free range chickens must be exactly as we imagine them. If that mean we pay more, then so be it. Here is a link, put solely here so that what I have written may be picked up. http://www.nswfarmers.org.au/policy_committees/eggs/