Is a chicken an animal, or simply

 IMG_3847IMG_3848IMG_3852an egg-making machine?

Too many big egg producers view their hens as the latter, subjecting them to short, uncomfortable and painful lives.

At Possum Creek, a farm in the Byron Bay hinterland, they’ve made a commitment to do things differently.

Unlike their barn-raised or caged cousins, hens at Possum Creek roam freely outdoors, with just 350 birds per hectare and plenty of room to move.

The farm has adopted the term ‘open range’ to describe their eggs, because free range simply doesn’t cut it anymore, according to farm coordinator Jo Webster.

She says new industry standards adopted last month mean eggs can be labelled as free range even if chickens have never been outdoors, and ‘free range’ farmers can now have stocking densities of up to 10,000 birds per hectare (previously set at 1500). “We don’t want to be associated with free range,” she said.

Because they are outdoors and rotated to fresh paddocks regularly, Possum Creek’s hens have constant access to fresh grass and the bugs that make up their natural diet. They’re also fully beaked:

“At a lot of places, because there are so many birds in a small area they tend to attack each other, so they get their beaks clipped off,” said Jo.

Leaving a chicken’s beak intact is not only more ethical, it’s also better for the birds health, says Jo, as it enables them to eat the bugs, insects grasses and weeds they need, and contributes to the nutrition of their eggs.

Jo says Possum Creek is also committed to the welfare of their chickens after they have finished peak egg production. As they get older, the shells of a chicken’s eggs get thinner – fine for chooks at home, but not for commercial egg production – so factory farms will kill their chickens after 12-18 months.

“We keep ours for three years and then we re-home them through Facebook.”

“We give them away or sell them as pets.”

• Find Possum Creek Eggs at the New Brighton Farmers Market every Tuesday

– by Kate O’Neill