Chooks on the move puts Wagin farm in the groove

30 Jul, 2011 03:00 AM

MANY sheep and cattle properties in WA are adopting some form of rotational grazing. But what are the intricacies of rotationally grazing chooks!

One Wagin couple is finding out.

Recently married, Graham and Nancy Murray were looking at ways of improving their pasture management and have adapted an interesting approach by using their chooks.

Nancy said chooks were now playing a huge role in their new approach and they had opened up a handy market for their "pastured" eggs at the same time.

"We call them pastured eggs because the whole time the hens live on either dormant or growing pasture," Nancy said.

"During the growing season we rotate them so they are only in an area for two days at a time.

"This allows the pasture to be eaten back enough so the chooks get what they need out of it but also moves them on so the leaf can regrow."

Nancy said there was a misunderstanding in the general farming community that chooks did damage to the pasture but it was actually the opposite.

"Having the hens on the pasture doesn't do damage to it, it actually cultivates it," she said.

"The hens live in a shelter in the paddock that is on wheels and we move it around the paddock.

"Basically it is similar to your pasture rotation system.

"So you have your strip grazing systems except we are using hens to do that rather than cattle or sheep.

"We haven't got any cattle to use on the system at the moment, we did have but with last year's season we decided to hold them off and maintain every bit of pasture we could get."

The Murrays run about 200 hens on their 37 hectare property and usually run about 25 head of cattle.

Nancy said the tough thing about what they were doing was that no one had tried it before.

"We have researched other places and areas which have similar set-ups but nothing in this area and with this type of rainfall," she said.

"So we are out on a limb."

The Murrays have always been interested in researching what is sustainable and their experiment with chooks is doing just that.

"You have got to leave things in a better situation than when you found them if you can," she said.

"With the hens at this stage, the margins are quite high but we are still in the learning stage.

"Once we get to a stage where we can take that next big leap and be more efficient it will be even better."

The Murrays hoped to sell boutique beef but that didn't really work well with Nancy.

"I'm actually a vegetarian," she said.

"So we decided to look at different things.

"Our set up needed to be something which I could be involved with and it has worked in perfectly with our lifestyle choices and also what we do on the land."

Nancy said the positives from using hens to graze were huge and it was like having 'small super spreaders' moving across the paddock.

She said word was beginning to spread about what they were doing and people wanted to know more.

"Since we started about three years ago we have had people come to us and say that they were thinking of doing something similar," she said.

"It is really opening their eyes on the way we do things and we have had a lot of questions and curiosity on how we are doing things.

"Particularly when it comes to the finer details like dealing with foxes and people are quite amazed at the concept of us slowly moving the hens through the paddock and not actually keeping them in a fixed area."

Nancy and Graham came from very different backgrounds but both have a keen interest in working with animals and finding different ways to improve their farming operation.

"I grew up with chooks and funnily enough I actually hated them," Nancy said.

"I have a strong background in horses and the equine field. I grew up in suburbia but it wasn't your typical suburban lifestyle by any means.

"As a child I was very much exposed to the country lifestyle."

Graham came from a traditional farming background but realised the importance of changing the way they operate the farm to enhance the sustainability of it.

"We are both very passionate about animals, farm management and land management," Nancy said.

"We don't say that we are into the organic side of things or the biodynamic but you have to look at the aspects which are going to work for you."

Nancy said the system could be adapted to larger operations.

"There really are no limitations," she said.

"If you can build a big enough system and keep up the pasture rotations then there really is no limitation on how big it can go.

"We would like to expand and we are looking towards the future rather than the next couple of years and we have definitely looked at purchasing more land to help try and build our operations."

The pasture grazed eggs are sold to the Wagin Farmers Co-operative, Wagin IGA and Narrogin IGA and they have been approached by City Beach Farmers' Market.

"Obviously to supply the farmers' market would be taking a huge leap and we would need to expand," Nancy said.

"When we look at expanding it just means we need to get a few more hens and we really need to grow across the board.

"Especially with our ability to store eggs and our methods of processing, just to make ourselves more efficient."

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2/08/2015 9:31:30 PM, on Farm Weekly

Hi Graham and Nancy, you have a good story in your chook raising. I have thought of starting the same thing myself, after I saw a farm in Tasmania farming chooks and cattle with the chook shelter on wheels, which moved around every few days and followed the cattle eating tick etc etc. Good Luck with you business. Tice.


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