Why all the fuss over defining the term 'free range'?

Family Homestead's Managing Director - Vesna Luketic has spent the last 10+ years trying to show that it is possible to farm ethically and still be commercial. It's a tough industry to be in constantly having to explain why it is that your dozen eggs are so much more expensive compared with your competition and that the cost of production of 'genuine free range' is so much higher. Most eggs that are labelled free range are not what the consumer would call 'free range'. The major problem is that in Australia there is no legal definition of the term 'free range' which makes it almost impossible to maintain credibility in the industry. Therefore farms can 'interpret' the meaning to suit themselves. This is the current battle that we are fighting and have been fighting for years to have a voice. Every decision made on our farm is based on ethical farming practice. This is important to us as I am sure it is to you.

It's not just about the egg, it's about animal welfare, environmental standards & don't forget – people standards! As far as we are concerned whatever the chook eats, we will eat, through the egg. We use colodial cleaners that are derived from olive extracts for cleaning and steralizing. It is a natural product that is void of any chemical/toxic substances yet is effective. This we feel is a huge achievement for a small family farm. Please note, we welcome our customers to come and see our farm for yourself – we are proud to be a 100% genuine free range farm & we thank all of our customers for supporting our farming practices & animal welfare!

How to tell if an egg is free range?

There are numerous eggs sold on our supermarket shelves claiming to be selling free range eggs, so how to tell the difference? The only way to be sure that what you're buying meets your expectations is to look for the accreditation logo of the Free Range Farmers Association. Accredited farms are inspected every year to ensure that they comply with the requirements of the Association.

Are free range eggs better than barn or cage eggs?

This is a contentious argument, industry heavyweights state that there is no nutritional difference and quote specific studies supporting these findings. However what they do not state is that these studies actually cite that the free range birds were in fact beak trimmed, thus unable to actually forage properly, therefore could only eat the same feed as those hens in cages. Obviously these studies would conclude no nutritional difference.

In fact there has been little scientific evidence to demonstrate the nutritional difference between eggs produced in different production methods. The 2007 Mother Earth News egg testing project revealed eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:

• 1/3 less cholesterol

• 1/4 less saturated fat

• 2/3 more vitamin A

• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids

• 3 times more vitamin E

• 7 times more beta carotene

Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx

Why are free range eggs more expensive than ordinary eggs?

Genuine free range egg production costs are a lot higher due to traditional free range farms are generally smaller and more labour intensive than cage, barn laid, or intensive factory farmed free range farms. It is far less costly per egg to have 50,000-100,000 hens locked in sheds with automatic feeding and egg collection systems compared to a farm such as ours that limits 1,000 birds per shed, not to mention the fact all of our sheds are mobile which means all our eggs are hand collected.

Family Homestead hens are never locked up! Compare that to other 'so-called' free range farms who's hens are locked up until after their peak laying time of 11:30am. That's right they still call this free range, even though they only see daylight for ½ the day. Even worse a number of other 'so-called" free range farms let their birds outside weather dependant. We're pretty sure their packaging doesn't state "Free Range Eggs for ½ the day" or "Free Range Eggs only when the weathers good". Funnily enough chooks love the rain, our hens free range all day long – they decide whether they wish to go back into their shed's or not – rain, hail or shine – it's the hen's choice!

How should I store eggs to keep them fresh?

Eggs should always be kept refrigerated, in their carton, with the pointed end down for optimal freshness.

Where can I purchase Family Homestead Genuine Free Range Eggs?

Our eggs are available Victoria wide. The most widely available stockist being your local Coles store. Our eggs can also be purchased from the Coles online website: https://www.colesonline.com.au/

Of course you can find our eggs in all good health food shops, fruit & veg outlets, independent supermarkets as well as sold in some of our café's in their retail sections. If you cant find our eggs in your local supermarket, deli or health food store, please contact us and we will be happy to provide you with the details of your nearest supplier.

Do we supply eggs wholesale to cafes, restaurants & catering companies?

Of course! Selling eggs directly in trays to be used in cooking represents 30% of our current market. We supply to some of the best restaurants & cafes in Melbourne. Our eggs are sent out within days of being laid, ensuring the freshest possible egg. Chef's love cooking with Family Homestead Free Range Eggs, especially good for poaching for delicious breakfasts!

We love to highlight our customers, please see our "Customer Spotlight" section on our website to see where you can go to eat great food made with Family Homestead eggs. If you're a chef or restaurant owner and would like to purchase our free range eggs to use within your kitchen please contact us and we'd be happy to discuss order availability.

How long do eggs last?

Eggs have a shelf life of 5 weeks. This however really does depend on how your eggs are stored. Check the Best Before date when purchasing and remember that they must be refrigerated. Lastly, before adding egg to your cooking ingredients, always crack the egg in a small bowl or plate to make sure the egg is perfect.

Why does the egg yolk colour vary, sometimes pale to golden in colour?

This variance in yolk colour is a good indication that the hens do not have an egg yolk colour additive in their food. The yolk is actually influenced by the hen's diet and varies with the time of year, the availability of green grass and basically what the chook ate. You will always notice a yolk colour variance when cracking open a Family Homestead Free Range Egg.

What happens to the male chicks/roosters?

We at Family Homestead don't buy male chicks as we don't need roosters, nor can we have fertile eggs on our farm. The question of male chicks in hatcheries is difficult, because 50% of the chicks which hatch are males and the hatcheries destroy them as a 'waste product'. There are regulations in place which means that they should be destroyed humanely - but like everything there are some operators who don't abide by the rules. Research is being undertaken through the Poultry CRC into the identification of male embryos so those eggs can be discarded before they hatch. If this works (and it's probably still a few years away from knowing) it will have welfare benefits and will also lift the profitability of hatcheries. If you would like to investigate this further perhaps call up a hatchery, I am sure that they would be able to answer your questions – as we only purchase female chicks from a hatchery, which is a separate business.

Personally, we believe it would be great if someone could find a use for these male chicks somehow – find a demand for them. Unfortunately roosters are not always that suitable as a pet, as they can be very aggressive... therefore we don't know what the answer is. This problem really does need to be tackled. As human beings we have a long way to go in order to get things right & there is so much to fix and we can, just everyone needs to do their bit.

Do blood spots in an egg mean that I cannot eat it?

No, they are not harmful and do not effect the nutrition or usability of the egg. Simply remove the spot with the tip of your knife, otherwise you can leave it and use the egg normally. Normally a blood spot is picked up during the grading process however sometimes (especially in brown eggs) they can be difficult to spot and we are unable to catch them all.

How long do we keep our hens for?

We are a family business, we love farming, love our chooks & animal welfare is of the greatest importance to us. On our farm we have chooks that are all different staggered ages. We keep our hens in production a lot longer then we probably should for commercial reasons. As the chook gets older, past it's 18 month 'prime', it just doesn't lay consistently, and is not as economical or sustainable. We usually keep each flock for 2-2.5 years approx. Where our farm is situated it can be seen from the Western Hwy and as such we get a steady stream of customers wanting anywhere from 2 to 20 chooks. For some people they want some chooks in their backyard to lay eggs (every other day or so), others use them I'm sure for their own consumption. For us, this is a lot more time consuming, however is our first preference. If anyone wishes to obtain some chooks, please feel free to call or email us & we can arrange a time for when chooks will be available :)

Here is a recent email we received on the 13th of February 2012 from Leanne: "I wanted to thank you for selling me the chickens at the market. They are very forward, happy and follow us everywhere. Two of them fly over gates and sit on the horse feeding buckets and perched straight away. One in particular, who we've named columbus travels all over the farm, going in the with horses, the goats, the alpacas and even knocks on the back door! It's such a big difference to the other chickens we have. I wanted to commend you on your excellent treatment of these chickens. The other chickens we have are ex battery hens from "Happy Hens" in Meredith and they took a full two weeks to even walk out of the chicken house with the door wedged open every day. They are much better now, but the difference in yours in the beginning is amazing. There mixed in with the others with very minimal pecking of each other and are happily chirpy away all the time. Thanks again. I think it's a great idea to sell them at the Farmers market. I've told people I know who may get chickens to get of you if they can."