Love the idea of keeping chooks but don’t know where to start?
During Scenic Rim Eat Local Week you can visit Ayton Farm at Rathdowney and learn how farmers Rod and Kathy O’Connell breed and keep chooks.
Ayton Farm is just one of many Scenic Rim farms you can visit during Scenic Rim Eat Local Week, which is held from June 24 to July 2, in the first week of the Queensland school holidays.
We caught up with Farmer Rod to find out more about his ‘beyond organic’ farm.
Farmer Rod, what kind of chickens do you keep?
We have two kinds of chickens on our farm – meat chickens and egg laying chooks. The meat chickens are a breed called Ross 308. They are bred for eating and they grow quickly.
Our egg chooks are Rhode Island Reds, Rhode Island Whites and Bond Browns. We get them as point-of-lay pullets between 16 and 18-weeks old.
Where do your chickens live?
Our egg chooks live in a purpose-built caravan with nesting boxes imported from Italy. We move the caravan around our paddocks so the chooks always have something new to eat.
How many eggs do they lay?
It takes about two months to get to full egg-laying production. Each chicken can lay one egg a day. We keep our chooks laying for about 12 months. After that their egg production may drop to every second day and that’s when we sell them to people as backyard chooks.
Because we feed our chooks an expensive organic feed mix we need them to produce eggs every day.
How do you protect your chooks from predators?
We use electric mesh fencing to about 120cm high, but we also have guard geese. Geese have an incredible instinct for guarding. We have three of them – Harry, Genghis and Houdini, who used to be known as Hermione but then we discovered she was a he!
What do you do to the eggs after they’ve been laid?
Our girls lay their eggs onto astroturf in their nesting box. The eggs run onto a central conveyer belt and onto an egg collection point. If the eggs are perfect we don’t wash them because nature puts a bloom on the egg, it’s nature’s way of protecting the egg.
We do sometimes have to wipe dirt off the egg and if it’s very dirty we keep those eggs for use at home. Then we put the eggs across a machine that shines a bright light under the egg and allows us to spot any problems. We are looking for small cracks to the shell. The machine grades them into sizes and we pack them into cartons.
How long will an egg last for?
We put a best before date of six weeks after the lay date.
Visit Rod and Kathy O’Connell at Ayton Farm during Eat Local Week and see how they farm chooks. They’re open for farm tours on June 28 and 30. Bookings are essential.