Egg production practices reveal cracks in free range code

Silverdale Eggs manager Dan Carney and owner Rob Waterson are proud to be the only RSPCA approved free range egg producer in Queensland.
Silverdale Eggs manager Dan Carney and owner Rob Waterson are proud to be the only RSPCA approved free range egg producer in Queensland. Brenda Strong

FREE range eggs are not always what they're cracked up to be, according to a local egg producer.

Dan Carney, manager of Silverdale Eggs in Calliope, said a lack of national standards meant it was difficult to determine exactly what "free range" was.

"And generally when someone buys free range, it's not the way it's been produced in a lot of cases," he said.

"It's not the image on the packet."

As only one of two RSPCA certified free range egg producers in Australia, Silverdale Eggs is all about ensuring low stock densities and the humane treatment of hens.

But Sustainable Table co-founder Cassie Duncan said with so many different ways to be certified as "free range", and so many options on the market, it had to come down to what the consumer wanted.

"The RSPCA certainly isn't the strictest out there as they allow beak trimming," she said.

"What it comes down to is why you are choosing free range."

Ms Duncan said the biggest challenge was making consumers aware of what they were buying.

"People are trying to do the right thing. They want to buy free range products," she said.

"But it's all so complex for consumers. They don't understand what it all means for the animal.

"I think more eggs are being sold under the free range label than can be physically produced."


Cattle and chooks sharing their freedom to range

WHAT came first, the chicken or the egg?

Well, at Silverdale Eggs in Calliope, it was the cattle.

Silverdale Eggs, Calliope. The only RSPCA Free range egg producer in Queensland.
Silverdale Eggs, Calliope. The only RSPCA Free range egg producer in Queensland. Brenda Strong

In a bid to improve soil quality, these cattle farmers ventured into free range egg production.

Manager Dan Carney said it was the perfect win-win situation for the cattle and the chickens.

"The hens fertilise, scratch up compost and reduce insect pests such as flies from the paddock, which ensures a beautiful pasture for the cattle to graze," he said.

"And the cattle keep the grass from getting too tall for the hens."

Rob and Sandra Waterson set up Silverdale Eggs in 2010, and are now the only RSPCA-approved free range egg producer in Queensland and one of only two in all of Australia.

Mr Carney said the RSPCA standards of ensuring low stock densities and the humane treatment seem like basic common sense to him.

"Most people haven't seen first-hand the way cage eggs are produced. The chickens are basically confined to a concentration camp; it's an ugly side of the industry," he said.

The 5000 hens at Silverdale Eggs are never confined to a shed, and are free to come and go as they like.

"Our system is different compared to most. We use a mobile system, that allows us to move our hens onto fresh pasture," Mr Carney said.

"Most free range setups use a static shed and the same paddock, which quickly becomes overgrazed and bare of any vegetation."

The local producers currently employ eight staff members who collect and pack about 22,000 eggs per week by hand.

Their eggs are stocked locally around Central Queensland and Mr Carney said they had recently started delivering to workplaces.

This year, Silverdale Eggs plans to start working with schools to educate kids on food production.

For more information, visit their website here.

Free range?

  • Free range eggs make up nearly 40% of eggs sold in Australia
  • Although there is no national standard, Queensland legislation and the CSIRO model code both limit producers to 1500 hens per hectare

How often do you buy free range eggs?

This poll ended on 16 May 2013.

Always - 65%

Sometimes - 15%

Never - 18%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Topics:  calliope free range eggs gladstone rspca

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