Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs
To mark World Egg Day, held on the second Friday of October each year, Eativity speaks with Thomas Fryar of Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs about “true” free-range egg production and why you might want to take a closer look at your egg carton.
Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs is a family owned and operated pastured egg farm on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, which is famous for both its pristine wilderness and its high-quality food. Tom and Fiona Fryar established Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs in 1992 with just 400 hens. Today, they run 70,000 pastured full-beaked hens with the help of their sons Thomas and Jason and daughters-in-law Kirby and Bonnie.
What are pastured eggs?
“Pastured” means that the birds are running on pasture. They have room to freely roam around across a paddock or field with pasture that they can forage and scratch about in.
“The reason that term was created was to define what we like to call ‘true free range’,” says Thomas, “and to separate that from your standard commercialised free-range egg.”
Pastured eggs are run on a low stocking density – Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs has no more than 190 hens to the hectare. Commercial-style free range can be up to 10,000 birds per hectare. In such high densities, hens usually don’t have access to real pasture.
“In that sort of scenario, generally, they’ll just bare out the ground that they’re allowed to roam on,” Thomas explains. “And so nothing can grow there.”
Happy chooks lay better eggs
High stocking densities don’t just deprive the birds of natural pasture to scrounge around in for food; more intensive farming conditions can also lead to behavioural problems.
“In a more intensive situation, the birds can get bored or stressed, and that can create aggression towards other birds,” Thomas says. “But here, our birds are living a happy life where they can do all the things that nature intended. They’re scratching around. They’ve got plenty of room, so they don’t have conflict with other birds. They’ve got plenty of things to keep them interested so they don’t get bored. They’ve got trees to perch in and dust bowls to dust-bathe in. They’ve got grass to scratch in, they’ve got bugs to find and eat.
“It’s mainly about keeping them happy. We always say a happy chook lays a better egg.”
The Fryars’ business is certified by Humane Choice to ensure the hens are genuine free range. The farm is also PROOF certified. This stands for “pasture raised on open fields”. PROOF is an Australian certification program for free range, pastured eggs, pork, chicken, beef and lamb. Both certifications require regular auditing.
“We’ve always wanted to have some sort of accreditation to help show that we’re doing the right thing,” Thomas says. “We’re so proud of what we do here. We want to give our customers proof that it’s not just us saying we’re doing this; we’re actually doing it.”
A self-sufficient cycle
To provide shelter for their hens, the Fryars have around 70 fully mobile chicken sheds that can be easily moved on to fresh pasture once the chooks have bared out an area.
“That area where they’ve been, they’re leaving behind manure,” Thomas says. “That fertilises the ground, which is then able to either grow a crop or new pasture. And 12 to 18 months later, we’ll put birds back on that area after it’s regenerated and start over again.”
The Fryars also stand apart in that they grow all of their own crops to feed their birds. Around 3000 acres produce grains that are milled on-farm to create a set recipe that was developed by a poultry nutritionist. This acts as a supplemental feed for the hens.
“Whatever they can’t get out of the paddock – the grass, the insects – we have the grain feed available for them as well,” Thomas says. “It means we know what our chooks are eating. We’re trying to be self-sufficient by creating that cycle where we’re growing the grain, feeding it to the chooks and then using their by-product to fertilise those crops.”
Under a watchful eye
The hens also have 24-hour guardians in the form of Maremma dogs. These delightful creatures were bred to bond with an animal from puppyhood, and as they grow up, they instinctively keep guard over them, day and night, to protect them from predators.
“They’re great,” Thomas says of the farm’s 28 Maremmas. “We often say we wouldn’t be farming these chickens in this style without them. We’re very lucky that we don’t have foxes on Kangaroo Island. Our main predators are feral cats and the native wedge-tailed eagle. And so, if a feral cat appears or an eagle comes flying over the chicken area, the dogs spot it straight away and start barking and following it, making sure it doesn’t come near the birds. They do an excellent job of protecting them. It’s amazing to watch.”
Tasting the difference
The majority of Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs are sold at retail, but the farm also supplies cafes and bakeries. And the feedback is always overwhelmingly positive.
“We often get messages or emails where people say, ‘I’ve just tried your eggs for the first time, and I’ll never be buying anything else again, the taste is unbelievable’,” Thomas says. “We believe that eggs do taste different when they’re farmed this way.”
Gathering eggs from 70,000 hens over thousands of acres is not an easy task. Four people head out every day in a purpose-built vehicle and hand-collect the eggs out of the sheds. The eggs are then driven to the on-farm processing facility, where they’re put into cold storage. The next day, eggs are graded and packed into cartons, ready to be shipped.
“It’s a very labour-intensive way of farming chickens, which is why a lot of people don’t do it. But we believe it’s producing a premium product. That’s why we make it happen.”
Check your carton
All free-range egg producers must display the farm’s stocking density on the carton. This is a great way for consumers to check if the eggs they’re buying are truly free range, or if the birds are at the maximum legal outdoor stocking density for free-range egg farming. This is 10,000 hens per hectare of land, or one hen per square metre.
“We believe that’s too high,” Thomas says. “The customer is not really getting what they think a free-range egg is when they buy an egg like that. When you think of a free-range chicken, you think of it out in a paddock in the grass. We want consumers to know that’s what they’re getting from us. That’s why we chose to get accredited. And that’s why PROOF was created. To give the customer proof that what they’re buying is true free range.”
To find out more about Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs, including stockists in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia, head to kieggs.com.au. You can also choose to support cafes and restaurants that use cage-free eggs. Head to choosewisely.org.au to find places serving higher welfare food near you.