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

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