Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
For Natasha and Dean Lobban economics made it an easy question to answer, introducing a free range egg operation to their 250 hectare property “Kilmuir Farm” Eldorado.
“Initially I wanted to do meat birds but there’s no local abattoir so we’d have to send the birds to Melbourne,” Mrs Lobban said.
“At the time it was $5 a bird kill free, plus transport, plus refrigeration and storage. Not many people will pay $40 for a chicken so we looked to eggs.”
The Lobbans run Angus cattle, sheep and pigs and settled on adding egg production when looking to diversify and generate another income source.
Establishing the egg production was still not cheap.
A mobile nesting van was commissioned. It is moved daily to ensure hens get access to fresh grass.
They built a commercial grade sorting and packing room to comply with council regulations and bought a grader to scan and sort eggs into size, sold by the dozen and trays of 30.
Their first batch of 400 hens arrived in February and produce more than 2000 eggs a week, supplying restaurants and retail outlets across the North East and southern NSW. They are looking to find retailers to stock Kilmuir Farm eggs Albury-Wodonga.
Kilmuir Farm run their hens at just 40 birds a hectare, compared with the national free range egg standard of 10,000 hens a hectare standard.
“There’s more to a hen’s life than the hectare measure. Do they have meaningful access to pasture and sunshine every day or do they have a little pop door on the side of the shed where they can access the outside if they want to?,” Mrs Lobban said.
“It’s more important to know your farmer and how your birds are being treated rather than just following the little number on the box … I really just looked at what myself as a consumer would expect, and how I want to farm as well.”
While setting up the egg business their daughter Hattie was also fighting health battles which demanded a lot of time away from the farm.
Now 20 months old, Hattie arrived eight weeks early with an diagnosed heart condition and spent most of her early months at Melbourne’s Royal Children's Hospital.
Natasha was also working to grow the Victorian Farmers Federation after being elected Wangaratta and District Branch president.
“The VFF’s an advocacy body and that’s really important work to be involved in but its other main role as far as I’m concerned is as a social outlet,” she said.
“Also its where we share ideas and I’m trying to focus on getting speakers in who really encourage members to think outside the square a little bit … It’s a really good group and I enjoy spending time with them, they have so much valuable information.”