Meet the chooks, dogs and people behind Queensland’s only RSPCA Approved layer hen farm


Life is pretty great for the hens living at Forage Farms on the Sunshine Coast. Not only do they have constant access to fresh green pastures, they’re also able to live their best lives knowing that their safety is being taken care of.

Sally and Leah are Forage Farms’ ‘chook bodyguards.’ The two Maremma dogs are responsible for barking at their feathered wards if danger is imminent.

“They warn the chickens every time an eagle flies over,” says Forage Farms’ Stuart Andrews. “They know what they’re doing. The chickens go running into the shelter until it’s safe.”

Although both dogs are very friendly, Stuart says that the farm’s canine protectors have very distinctive personalities.

“Sally’s always fairly welcoming,” he explains. “But Leah really needs to get to know you. They like being out with the chooks – they get upset when they’re away from them.”

While Stuart estimates that Sally and Leigh are aged eight and five respectively, he’s not entirely certain. You see, the two dogs have been with the farm for longer than the Andrews family – who bought the business in 2016 when it was known as Silver Dale Eggs.

“It was something that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile,” Stuart says.

Before opening Forage Farms, Stuart’s background was in landscape regeneration. In running courses on how to regenerate land, he noticed that many of his students were curious about the possibility of farming and regenerating the same piece of property simultaneously. Soon, he realised it was something he wanted to explore for himself too. Together with his wife Megan and their teenage sons, he set out to make this dream a reality. Forage Farms’ uses natural-sequence farming techniques in order to keep the land naturally fertile and hydrated.

“The goal of natural sequence farming is to run animals that function within the landscape,” says Stuart. “As well making the land more fertile and getting products from that land.”

The Andrews family are proud to farm pasture-raised pork as well as their RSPCA Approved, free range and pastured eggs. As the only RSPCA Approved layer hen farm in Queensland, Forage gives its birds the freedom to express their natural behaviours.

“The birds have got plenty of space to do the things they like,” says Stuart. “Dustbathing, looking for insects and grubs. They can do what they want.”

As pastured chickens, Forage’s layer hens are welcome to roam in the fields whenever they please. Their houses have roofs for shelter from the elements, but are otherwise fully open. In the houses, the chooks enjoy perches and nest boxes where they can lay their eggs.

Stuart encourages other farms looking to get involved in the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme to do their homework. “Go into it with your eyes open,” he says. “Do plenty of research as to what’s required.”

Stuart’s reason for prioritising animal welfare is simple. “Why should an animal have a worse quality of life than a human? Why should we put ourselves on a pedestal above them because they provide us with a product?”

He is of the firm belief that hens with the ability to make choices about how they spend their time will also produce tastier eggs for customers to enjoy. “If they’re not having a happy life, they’re not producing a good quality product,” he says.

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Forage Farms eggs are available in Queensland. To find a stockist search rspcaapproved.org.au

Amanda @ RSPCA

Amanda is a book nerd and an animal lover. While she’s still only learning about the world of humane food, she’s keen to help others find out more about it too.

5 comments

  1. A few questions… pasture raised pork… what pain management is used in castration, tail docking, teeth clipping and ear notching? How are these pigs slaughtered? What stress, fear, and pain do they endure before they end up on a plate?
    Hens… what happens to the hens when they are no longer producing enough eggs? And at what age?
    What happens to the males chicks when only the females are wanted?

    • Thanks for your questions Liz – just to clarify the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme works with Forage Farms on assessing and approving their layer hens – so their eggs are RSPCA Approved. Forage Farms also produces pork, however this section of their farm is not currently participating in the Scheme.

      The commercial reality of egg farming means that hens are slaughtered at around 18 months old when their egg production decreases – RSPCA’s welfare standards for layer hens include standards for humane slaughter.

      Male chicks in the egg industry are killed for two reasons: they can’t lay eggs and they’re not suitable for chicken-meat production. To avoid killing these chicks the RSPCA would like to see (and has been urging the egg industry to invest in) alternatives, eg research into alternatives to allow chick sex to be determined in the early egg incubation phase. For the time being, however, male chicks in the layer hen industry are killed.

      • I quote, “Forage Farms also produces pork, however this section of their farm is not currently participating in the Scheme.” That unfortunately in itself answers the question.

  2. Laura Fisher says:

    I’m not keen on getting into a debate here, but as someone who hasn’t eaten meat for 20-odd years due to animal welfare concerns I just wanted to share what I’ve come to understand about this kind of farming. Farms like this one and other regenerative farms that have free-range animals are a world away from the inhumane methods of industrial agriculture. These farmers work against the grain of their industry, taking substantial financial risks to do so and approach farming holistically – thinking about the regeneration of landscapes, biodiversity, carbon storage, water retention and a host of other things that are not on the animal-welfare radar. Plants and animals coevolved, and are co-dependent. If you take a more holistic view of the health of the planet, and the viability of landscapes to support life in all its forms, then pasture-raised animals are vital to us achieving that and repairing what industrial agriculture has destroyed. These farmers are at the cutting edge of sustainable, humane farming and should be commended. So my point is, better to target your critical energies at the big guys who systematically enslave animals for the meat industry, not small-scale, family farms like Forage Farms who adopt ethical practices and give their animals a great life (and make up a too-tiny portion of the food industry). Good on you RSPCA for acknowledging the work of these farmers.

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