Tasmanians love eggs and over the last few years the state’s biggest egg producer has set about changing its operations to meet new customer demand. KAROLIN MACGREGOR reports
Pure Foods Eggs is the state’s largest egg producer and since 2013 the company has shifted about 45 per cent of its production systems to free range.
After previously being located in three different places the company has also consolidated its operation on a large property near Longford in the state’s north.
Pure Foods Eggs managing director is Danny Jones who also heads up the national egg body as chairman of Australian Eggs.
Across the country Mr Jones said egg consumption was slowly growing.
Each year on average Australians consume about 240 eggs per person.
This has jumped up from an average of 170 about 16 years ago.
The national industry produces about 550 million dozen eggs a year.
At Pure Foods the production is 3.6 million dozen a year.
Mr Jones said the consumer preference for free ranges eggs in recent years was a trend he expected to continue and would most likely will see them invest in more free range systems down the track.
About 65 per cent of the eggs produced at Pure Foods are sold through retail outlets like the major supermarket chains. The other 35 per cent is sold into the state’s food service industry.
The size of the company’s free range production areas range from 2ha to 3ha.
Stocking densities across the farm are 10,000 birds a hectare. The hens are bought in as day- old chicks and kept at the operation's on-farm growing sheds until they are ready to start laying at about 18 weeks.
All the hens used at the farm are the Hyline Brown breed which have been specifically bred for egg production.
Mr Jones said originally the genetics for the Hyline Browns came from jungle hens which meant they had very good foraging abilities.
Each area also included a large shed which the hens are contained to at night to prevent them being attacked by predators.
As well as nest boxes the sheds also have feeding and watering systems as well as multi-level perches the hens can rest on.
Large fans and mesh sides means the sheds are kept well ventilated and provide shelter from wet and cold weather and shade on hot days.
Out in the free range paddocks, the chickens also have shade cloth areas to escape the heat.
Mr Jones said keeping the hens busy and with plenty to do was important.
Trees are also being planted in the free range areas and bales of hay are regularly introduced to give chicks something to peck at.
Farm manager John Sattler said the hens also scratched out dust areas which they will bathe in regularly.
“Once the trees get bigger it will give them some lovely shaded areas with dappled light which they will really enjoy,” Mr Sattler said.
In front of each shed an era ofrocks has been installed which prevents mud being carried into the sheds during wet periods.
The free range areas are re-sown with fresh grass between flocks.
Manure in the sheds is collected on a conveyor belt system and removed regularly to prevent odours.
Mr Sattler said this manure was then supplied to local farmers for use as fertiliser.
Once the hens have been retired from production, they are also composted at a special facility in the Midlands which is eventually used as fertiliser.
The eggs are also collected on conveyor belt system and packed automatically once a day in areas attached to each shed.
The eggs are then transported to the company’s packing facility at Kings Meadows where they are washed graded and placed in egg cartons ready for delivery.
At peak capacity the operation can house up to 180,000 birds.
Feed for the operation is supplied from the company’s own mill at Carrick which it purchased six years ago.
Mr Jones said having their own mill enables them to produce a range of feeder pellets depending on what stage the hens are at.
Each year the operation uses about 7000 tonnes of feed.
About 70 per cent of the raw materials such as grains and canola oil are sourced from local producers.
The company is also a big supporter of charities.
Each year it donates eggs to RSL clubs across the state for Anzac Day breakfasts.
Special packs of eggs in thesupermarkets also raise money to support causes such as the Tasmanian devil research and the McGrath Foundation.
Twenty cents from the sale of each of these fundraising cartons of eggs is donated to the charities.