What is an Eggmobile? More about our laying hen operation.
An Eggmobile is a mobile hen house. Inspired by Joel Salatin who I learnt about reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. We have 10 on our farm with each housing 250 hens. Below is a picture taken in early September 2012 as the girls are heading out for another day of free ranging on our pastures. (This is genuine free range not the theoretical access to the free range that you actually buy when you buy free range. More about this later in the blog.)
We built our first one (August 2009) on a trailer that we bought. The only good thing about this is that we can paint the sides. The side that you see, below, was painted by the girls. We don’t show the boy’s side to visitors.
My then colleague Christo Kok then did a magnificent job of designing one from scratch that you can see below. It is lighter, it houses 250 hens as opposed to 150 (roosting and nesting space inside the Eggmobiles are more generous than the organic standards), it is easier to collect eggs from and modifying it for winter weather is easy. The only downside is that it is not aesthetically pleasing but the Spier Architectural Arts group are going to try this year to make our Eggmobiles into wandering art pieces.
Another benefit of Christo’s Eggmobile is that we get to make them ourselves. The team is led by Alois who is pictured below. I can email you the plans, which were drawn up by the draftsman William Hammers, if you are interested.
24 out of 25 millions laying hens in this country live in metal battery cages where their “living” space is a little less than an A4 page. The metal mesh floor is sloped so that the egg rolls out. They are artificially stimulated by light to lay. They are debeaked because of cannibalism (of the commercial egg producers, to our knowledge, only ourselves and our neighbours who we have helped get off the ground do not debeak). Below is a picture of a debeaked hen.
Our chicken team got to visit such a factory farm a few weeks ago and it is a shocking experience to see 30,000 hens in one building producing eggs. In the photo below you can see a few things if you look closely. First there are only 4 layers of layers. In Japan they have up to 19 layers of layers with some farms in the Western Cape at 8 layers or is it levels? What is the collective noun? Second the entire process is mechanized from feeding to water to medication to egg “collection”. Third to the left and right of the pyramid of birds the dark stuff is accumulated chicken manure (animals being in close proximity to their manure with the resulting disease pressure is one of the major problems of factory farming). 24 out of 25 million laying hens! You choose the life of the hen by virtue of the egg that you buy.
What set us apart from anyone else, bar our neighbour, is that our hens actually get to free range if you will accept the poor language usage. On the same farm where we saw the 30,000 per “henhouse” we also went to their free range section. Here they have 7500 hens in a barn with small popholes for them to go out when the shutters are opened. We counted 500 out of 7500 outside and then there was a big fence about 12 metres from the barn surrounding it. The hens were all debeaked too.
The other reason for having our hens in Eggmobiles and ranging the pasture is that they spread fertility out of their back ends as they go on their merry way. This helps our 16 varieties of grasses and legumes in our pasture grow a dark, luxuriant green as you can see from the photo below. I am standing in a rectangular shape of healthy pasture. Our Eggmobiles are rectangular. We move our Eggmobiles every second day.
The photo below(taken by the photographer Margot Janse, who is also the chef here) gives an excellent vignette of our hens’ daily rhythm. At daybreak, today it was 5am, the nest boxes are opened. They are the wooden construction in the middle of the photo and they are closed by the egg team at 4pm the afternoon before by putting the wooden sticks across the front of the next box. The reason we close the nest box is that we don’t want them roosting in the nest box which will mean that they poop in the box and we don’t get their precious manure on the pasture and the eggs are dirty. The hen in the centre is announcing her delivery and the one behind her is running to go and do what hens do best. You can see that her beak is in tact. We collect eggs three times a day. At dusk we check to see that the hens are safely roosting on the perches which are the poles behind and around the nest boxes and then lock the Eggmobiles.
In addition to the grass, legumes and bugs from the pasture we feed our hens a free range laying ration from Profile Feeds. Unfortunately at this stage, like all chicken food in this country, the ration is GMO. However Profile Feeds have agreed to make a non GMO ration and so by May of next year we will have non GMO feed. Only then because we had to arrange non GMO soya to be planted for this purpose in October. A very big thank you to Hannes van der Westhuizen at Profile Feeds, Jimmy Shahim for growing the soya and Petrus van Eeden and Arnold Bender for their help in securing this scarce commodity.
You can either eat our eggs at the following hotels or restaurants. Mount Nelson, Spier, Le Quartier Francais, Oude Bank Bakkerij, The Loading Bay, Starlings Café, Camphors at Vergelegen, Rust en Vrede, Majeka House, Bodega at Dornier, The Big Easy, Bread and Wine, Aubergine, The Roundhouse, La Masseria and Simplicitea.
We try to get all our clients to the farm at least once a year for a visit. Below is the entire team from Eight at Spier, chefs and front of house, helping collect eggs and feed the hens.
Our eggs are also available, they are in packaging as per photo below from the following retailers: Organic Zone, Wellness Warehouse, Simplicitea, Somerset West Spar, Paul Roos Spar, Mostertsdrift Spar, Continental Butchery on Kloof Street, Go Natural, Stellenbosch Waldorf School Shopand Eight to Go on Spier.
Finally these eggs taste amazing. If you don’t believe me watch this.