A flock up chooks – as Aussies call chickens – that have among the best conditions in Australia are getting the best out of life, and producing some of the best eggs in the country, by doing what we all love to do – living in caravans.
The Australian news site, SBS, travelled to New South Wales to meet Hugh Maurice (who’s branded himself as Farmer Brown) owner of these pampered hens who even have their own online fan groups.
But this isn’t just fluffy Facebook stuff. Australian consumer groups rate the freedom afforded to these ultimate free-rangers have a massive 2,500 times the space required for free-range status. And it’s said to be working. The eggs from these flocks are said to be intense and creamy.
So where do caravans come in?
Well, when they’re not out and about pecking around in the fields, Farmer Brown’s flocks of 2,300 birds return to spend the night in chicken-friendly caravans that follow them wherever they choose to roam. “Basically the chickens do whatever they want,” says their custodian, who finds them all over his farm, showing little regard for the fences and boundaries that keep other livestock in their place.
A chicken’s life is a vulnerable one, though. And while caravans keep them safe and warm at night they have their own security guards, in the shape of three maremma breed sheepdogs, during the day.
The caravans are shifted every few days to ensure that the chooks don’t over-foul their own nests.
And caravans are used in another Australian super-free-range farm, where owner Natasha Harris goes well beyond the 10,000-hens-per-hectare minimum standard for free-range status with a flock of 400 birds each enjoying a theoretical quarter of a hectare each.
The idea is to give the chickens as close to a natural life as possible.
Mobile homes also back of the farming of Sarah and Liam Brokensha, who see their 850 chickens not just as egg producers but as mobile fertilizing machines. These peckers return to caravans every night, too, sometimes sheltering there during the day if the Australian weather gets too testing for them.
In the UK, the Jimmy’s Farm show put the spotlight on using old human caravans as chicken roosts. They’re mobile, certainly durable enough to keep the birds protected and warm at night, and great value for farmers. The poor birds though do have to survive without all the luxuries we take for granted in our own caravan holidays; chicken caravans are stripped out before the birds move in.
There’s even an industry producing specialised “Chicken Caravans” for free-range farmers, which sadly are far from fit for human habitation.
These “caravans” are really chicken coops on wheels, and can accommodate up to 450 chickens each. At $24,000 dollars and more, and with a Kickstarter campaign behind their development in the best modern style, the price for one of these machines rivals those of something you could happily spend a fortnight in Weymouth in.