Them’s Real Eggs
STORY AND IMAGES BY RICHARD CORNISH
When Yandoit farmer Paul Righetti went to register the name Real Eggs for his pasture raised eggs the authorities put the kaibosh on all that. He’d been calling his eggs ‘Real Eggs’ for years but had to settle on Honest Egg Company. Despite the decision from the powers at be, locals still call Paul’s pasture raised cack-leberries Real Eggs. To show us why he originally called his eggs ‘Real Eggs’, Paul takes us to a paddock on the outskirts of Guildford. He lets out a call and Oscar, the Maremma guard dog, bounds up his tail wagging. For us he has a suspicious sniff. Oscar lives with the chooks. Each flock of 2000 or so ISA Brown chickens live in mobile sheds complete with protected roosts and laying boxes. “I don’t need to lock the hens up at night,” says Paul. “Nothing gets past Oscar.”
The chickens are part of the pasture management programme for the farms Paul and his business partner share. On these they run cattle in small herds. Small herds for small paddocks, some around the 10-hectare mark depending on the soil type and the terrain. The cattle eat the best of the grass and are then moved on. It’s part of an overall management system where there are fewer costly farm inputs such as fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides and more natural use of animal manure as fertiliser. “Yeah, a bit like what my Great Grandfather was doing when he settled here,” says Paul. His family are Swiss Italian and settled in the 19th century, long before weed killing sprays and chemical fertiliser.
Once the cattle are moved on, the paddocks are heavily dotted with cow pats. These rapidly become home to fly larvae creating a fly problem and under the Australian sun the pats can bake rock hard and need to be mechanically harrowed to break them up, so they can fertilise the soil – a costly and time-consuming process. Enter the chickens. Protected by their security hound they are moved into the paddock where they are free to roam, scratching about the manure, consuming the incredibly protein-rich bugs, returning the manure to the soil as they poop themselves.
Paul leads us to a spot where the chickens were grazing a few weeks before. The grass is knee high, deep green and lush. “Plants react to the grazing from the chicken and send up more growth,” says Paul. “With the added chicken manure, you have really excellent soil fertility that just continues to grow.”
What started out as a pilot programme five years ago is now a fully-fledged business that employees 15 people not only on the farms where the chickens are raised but in the packing facility. Out the back of Daylesford, inside the old abattoir, a team of ‘eggsperts’, as one of the described themselves, clean, grade, stamp and pack thousands of eggs a day. The eggs are distributed mostly around central Victoria but are also available in Melbourne and selected stores across the state. The proof is in the eating and Honest Eggs Co. eggs have thick albumens that cling to the yolk. The yolks are naturally deep yellow (not dyed orange) and have a luscious texture and pleasing savoury flavour.
They are available at Tonnas, Cliffys and Daylesford Sunday Market in Daylesford. Try Duck, Duck Goose and Larder, Kyneton; Maxi IGA and Larder Fresh, Castlemaine and Wild Thyme, Trentham. For more stockists visit honesteggsco.com.au