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Madelaine seated with chickens in her lap and surrounding her, in a paddock in front of the mobile chicken houses.

 

I started my business “Madelaine's Eggs” when I was eight years old, back in 2002, as part of my home education curriculum. My parents believed that being able to interact with all sorts of people and learning how to establish and run a business would be invaluable skills throughout life.

 

Now fifteen years later, 23 year old me manages 3,000 certified organic, laying hens on my family’s farm Hollyburton Park, located in the Macedon Ranges of Victoria. My chickens and their eggs are NASAA certified organic, which means the chicken must be:

 

  • free-range - meaning 10,000 or less hens per hectare. I have 250 hens per hectare!

  • fed certified organic feed - feed which has no added hormones or antibiotics, and

  • protected from any exposure to any artificial fertilisers or pesticides on the pasture or in the food the chickens eat, even from surrounding farms. 

 

GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are also restricted entirely for organic standard compliance.

Unlike most free-range chooks or ‘barn laid’ chickens, due to these strict certification regulations my certified organic chicks must be fed organic feed from the time that they are hatchlings. To do this I must raise my chicks from the time they are 24 hours old and I do so in the Hollyburton orchards. As the hatchlings grow, they are moved out into the grassy paddocks where they are eventually put into a rotational grazing system for the next three years. They live peacefully in these paddocks, freely roaming amongst the grass and tree roots with a herd of certified organic, Murray Grey beef cattle as well as a family of Hollyburton-raised Maremma dogs that protect the chickens from foxes, feral cats, snakes, hawks and other threats to their wellbeing.

 

Whilst living in the paddocks, the chickens sleep and lay eggs in insulated mobile chicken houses that my father Rob and I designed and built together. These ‘chook-mobiles’ are moved every second day to fresh pasture which means any faeces that the chickens release over night falls through a mesh floor onto the ground to help naturally fertilise the paddock. It also prevents any poo build-up in the chicken’s habitat.

 

The chook-mobiles have wooden perches and the nest boxes have natural nesting materials so that each chicken can make a cozy nest every day before laying her egg. The houses are fitted with a misting sprinkler system for the hot, summer days and big air vents that can be opened and closed for ventilation depending on the forecast. The chickens can shelter from the weather if they choose but are otherwise free to be out in the elements all year around.

I stock my chickens at 250 hens per hectare, well below the Australian standard of 10,000 hens per hectare for free-range hens. Each hen is quite literally, free to range throughout their paddock, foraging a healthy banquet of bugs, grass, wild plant heads and leafy greens and dust bathing in the soft ground. Just as if they would do in the wild.

 

Madelaine holding a workshop in the orchards at Hollyburton Park surrounded by workshop attendees, chickens and fruit trees.

 

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