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An eggsplainer: What it means for the chook when you buy free-range eggs.

Sunny Queen Farms
Thanks to our brand partner, Sunny Queen Farms

I had a really idyllic childhood growing up in the country. I could ride my bike everywhere, I swam in the river all summer, and there were chickens running all around my parent’s backyard.

So perhaps it is because all of the fond memories of my fluffy chicken friends, that purchasing free-range eggs has always been very important to me. But there’s one thing that has always stumped me – what does free-range really mean for the chook? What goes on beyond the supermarket shelf, in the paddocks where the eggs come from?

I decided to pick the brains of the Managing Director of Sunny Queen Australia, John O’Hara, to eggs-plain (wink) what it actually means for the chickens when you purchase free-range eggs.

How much time do the hens actually have access to the outdoors?

Free range chickens tend to go in and out of the barns all day, they don’t always want to spend all their time outside, so it is all about how much time they have access to the outdoors. At Sunny Queen free-range farms, the chickens have access to the outdoor area for a minimum of eight hours a day.

O’Hara explains that after the chooks lay their eggs in the morning they head out onto the range, for a bit of a run, a forage and dust bath.

hen welfare
“At Sunny Queen free-range farms, the chickens have access to the outdoor area for a minimum of eight hours a day.” Image: supplied.

What animal welfare standards are in place at free range egg farms?

O’Hara explains that at Sunny Queen Farms, all free range farms are independently audited to ensure high quality animal welfare for the chooks. The hens have ventilation in the barns, with temperature control systems in place, as well as constant access to fresh air.  Sunny Queen Farms also have a vet that comes in regularly, to ensure the hens are eating a balanced nutritional diet (designed by an animal nutritionist), and are healthy and well cared for.

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“If we do all of that right, which we do, you find that a happy, healthy hen will always produce more eggs… so, it’s in our best interest to make sure that our girls are happy and safe and well cared for,” he said.

How much space do the free range hens have to move around?

Sunny Queen Farms free range chooks have a space of 1500 birds per hectare to roam in when they are outside, which in other words means that each chook has more space than a king size bed when they’re out in the paddock.

O’Hara added, “The girls have a mind of their own, so you’ll get one or two that will wander out to the end of the paddock, while some of the others tend to flock together – you’ll always get the renegade who likes to wander around.”

hen welfare
“Each chook has more space than a king size bed when they’re out in the paddock.” Image: supplied.

How can you be sure the hens are actually free-range?

How can we be sure that free range chooks are actually free range? What really goes on behind closed doors? Well, Sunny Queen Farms are really transparent, incredibly so, actually.

They have a “ChookTracker” so you can see everything for yourself. Think of it as the Big Brother of the chicken world, you can go online during the day and see what the chickens are up to as they run around outside.

“The webcam always films the paddocks and shows the hens going about their day – it’s there, there’s no editing or special effects and people can see for themselves; which is pretty important and also pretty entertaining,” O’Hara says.

After hearing all of this, it’s good to know that the chooks are as happy here as they once were in my backyard as a kid.

What kind of eggs do you usually buy?

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