Seventeen-year-old Gabi Cousins and her sister Kate, 15, have taken a love of chickens and established themselves within WA's pastured egg market.
Growing up on more than 4000 hectares of farmland at West Popanyinning, which is used for cereal grains and sheep production - and with business-minded parents - it's no wonder the siblings have entrepreneurial spirits.
Their father Craig is a third generation farmer and mother Bec owns the Pingelly Pharmacy.
What started out as a childhood Christmas present has led the siblings to create a small-scale, but serious, pastured egg business, Two Little Chicks.
"At the start the chooks were just kind of Gabi's hobby, she just loved them so much," Kate said.
"I'm completely chook obsessed," agreed Gabi, as she enclosed a small circle with her hands.
"They're just so... fluffy and cute."
For a while, Gabi was incubating the chickens, which led to an abundance of eggs the Cousins' household couldn't possibly use up.
So they started giving them to neighbours and selling them at the Pingelly Pharmacy.
Gabi found herself reeling in the most money she'd ever earned in her life.
"We started selling them for $3 - oh my goodness - it was so little money," Gabi said, thinking back.
"I think I got 50 bucks at one point and I was like 'Wow, this is so much money' but mum said I should buy some more chooks," she said.
At the 150-chicken mark, the girls decided they needed to go big, or get out.
In 2020, after selling their eggs out of the pharmacy for about five years, the sisters officially established their business.
"We reached a point where we were doing so much work, it was either make it a legal business or stop," Gabi said.
Then aged 15 and 13, Gabi and Kate had long calls with mentoring egg producers and dived into complex paperwork, creating a business risk management plan and food safety procedures.
They said their ages had caught a lot of suppliers off-guard, and they would often hand paperwork to their dad to sign, or even speak to them in a sarcastic or condescending way.
But soon, the chicken enclosures and equipment arrived onfarm and their excitement built.
The population of Isa Brown sub-breed sits between 1200-1500 at any given time, at a stocking rate of 250 chickens per hectare.
The chickens are free to roam wherever they like within the paddock, but the sisters said they generally stay close to the caravans where they roost and lay.
The caravans get moved to different sections of the paddock every few weeks.
The hens' health and wellbeing is the sisters' priority and led them down the path of pastured eggs.
It's a relatively new industry which the two are proud to be a part of, as it aims to prioritise hen wellbeing over production rates.
"We learned about the pastured egg industry and decided that was what we wanted to do," Gabi said.
"We agree with the pastured egg way because it's letting them be chooks, they can go where they want and not be kept in an enclosure.
"It's hard to go massive without sacrificing some of those things which are the key values of our business," she said.
"It feels more natural," Kate added.
The chickens eat a special high-protein feed mix produced by a nutritionist.
They also get shell grit to manage their calcium levels and available insects from the grass for protein.
The benefits of their welfare-first management was evident when the pair bought some chickens which were originally barn layers.
"They were completely featherless and white," Gabi said.
"Compared to our chooks, they looked horrible.
"Within about two weeks they had new feathers and looked like new chickens."
The girls have a no-cull rule, where they aim to bring sick chickens back to health.
Gabi said Two Little Chicks received a lot of affirming feedback from customers.
"We had someone email us the other week saying 'these are the best eggs I've ever had. They took me back to when I was a kid and used to visit my grandma'," she said.
Their eggs come in a beautiful assortment of colours and contain a bright orange yolk.
They are cleaned by hand, but thanks to their roll away boxes, newly laid eggs mostly come out clean.
They're inspected for cracks, put into a grader for sizing and packed into cartons.
The two have come a long way from repurposing old egg cartons.
They now have their own printed labels and a shipping container filled with several pallets of professionally designed cartons.
The final touch is a Two Little Chicks stamp, which is a legal requirement and a chance for extra branding.
The vibrant blue-green colour of the cartons makes them stand out in the egg aisle, to the point where some customers only know Two Little Chicks by their colour rather than their name.
"People notice it because it's such a bright colour," Gabi said.
They're a regular sell-out at several markets and stores in Perth, as well as to customers in the Great Southern region.
"These businesses are amazingly flexible and understanding of the fluctuations that come with producing pastured eggs," Kate said.
The eggs are so popular and well-loved, that they can barely produce enough to keep up with the demand.
Gabi said she hated to let customers down, but since both the sisters were still at school, the biggest limitation to their business was time.
They were putting about 20 hours a week into the business, working every day.
"At the moment we're still struggling to keep up with the cleaning, collecting, refilling tanks and payments and then school work," Kate said.
Gabi said their production rates could be higher but they weren't willing to compromise on the wellbeing of their hens.
Even small things that could be done to improve their production rates, they couldn't find the time to incorporate.
"We are prioritising the most important things we have to do," Gabi said.
The Great Southern community has loved the Two Little Chicks eggs, but noone has been more supportive of the sisters than other pastured egg producers.
It's what has contributed to the wealth of chicken knowledge they both have.
"We found most of the other owners were women and they were really encouraging, they wanted to help us start up our business," Gabi said.
She expected the industry to be much more competitive, however with not enough eggs to meet the current consumer demand, this was not the case.
Other pastured egg producers helped expand Two Little Chicks' network, helping with supplying equipment and getting the eggs into cartons and on shelves.
Gabi said social media helped to bring egg producers together to solve problems, so everyone could supply the huge demand for eggs.
"It's not what I expected, but it's the best thing ever," she said.
"People are starting to recognise there is a better way (to farm) and they're willing to pay a slightly higher price for it.
"It has much higher costs to produce, but it's also a premium product.
"Their business has been changing ever since they knuckled down in 2020, but now Two Little Chicks is set to change again.
Gabi has just graduated from Narrogin Senior High School and Kate is in year 10.
Gabi wants to move to Perth to study something in the medical field.
Getting a tertiary education was important to her.
Kate said she was interested in something in science or environment, but wasn't sure just yet.
After Gabi moves away, Kate and their mum will take over the business.
The teenagers are also interested in employing someone to fill Gabi's shoes.
"I think she really enjoys it, she finds it a lot more rewarding because you can physically see your work," Kate said.
"I'll just keep continuing until I graduate and see how it goes.
"And when Gabi's in uni she'll be doing all the paperwork," she said.
The girls are grateful to both their mum and dad for the amount of hours they put in to make the business run smoothly.
"Mum cleans so many of the eggs and takes them to Perth every week," Gabi said.
"Without mum and dad, our business wouldn't be here."
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