Bumnut bounty

Central and North Rural Weekly - - NEWS - Lucy Knight news@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

ITS name is hard to miss, but it’s the com­mit­ment to pas­tured free-range ideals and sus­tain­abil­ity that is help­ing south­ern NSW egg busi­ness BumNuts Aus­tralia carve out a place in the boom­ing pre­mium free-range egg mar­ket.

In the mid­dle of tra­di­tional fine-wool grow­ing coun­try in the NSW South­ern Table­lands, pro­duc­ers Theresa and Craig Robin­son have been dili­gently build­ing a free-range egg op­er­a­tion that en­cap­su­lates all cus­tomers love about back­yard chooks — fresh eggs from healthy chick­ens free to roam and for­age through pad­docks and pas­ture all day long.

They’re just do­ing it on a much big­ger scale.

What started out as a small busi­ness sell­ing eggs from 50 hens to a lo­cal cafe has rapidly grown in five years to 15,000 chick­ens that pro­duce 9000 eggs a day at their peak on their 367-hectare prop­erty just out­side the town­ship of Gun­ning, where the fam­ily also runs Merino sheep.

The cou­ple doesn’t down­play the fact their eye-catch­ing name, BumNuts Aus­tralia, has helped at­tract at­ten­tion and give them a foot in the door, as it is “hard to for­get”.

Now they are keen to take their mar­ket recog­ni­tion to the next level, look­ing to op­por­tu­ni­ties such as an on-farm chicken meat pro­cess­ing ven­ture.

Tri­als are also un­der­way to de­velop chook-ma­nure fer­tiliser and com­post prod­ucts.

Theresa says stay­ing true to their be­lief in what free-range should mean has un­der­pinned all as­pects of their op­er­a­tion.

She was heav­ily in­volved in the 2016 cam­paign led by con­sumer ad­vo­cate group, Choice, to try to stop the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment set­ting the na­tional stan­dard def­i­ni­tion for free-range eggs at 10,000 birds a hectare. The Robin­sons op­er­ate at a much lower level — less than 1500 birds per hectare.

While their cam­paign was un­suc­cess­ful, Theresa and Craig haven’t changed the way they pro­duce their eggs in a bid to keep up.

They em­pha­sise “pas­tured free-range” to dif­fer­en­ti­ate their op­er­a­tion in the wake of the na­tional def­i­ni­tion, to avoid be­ing likened to in­ten­sive free-range busi­nesses.

In­stead of try­ing to run more hens per hectare, they have in­vested heav­ily in equip­ment and ef­fi­cien­cies to boost their pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties and bot­tom line.

Small changes that ad­dressed fixed costs are re­duc­ing spend. Buy­ing car­tons and trays in bulk re­duced the cost by up to 10 cents an item, and new si­los also meant fod­der could be de­liv­ered in bulk, sav­ing up to

$200 a tonne.

Build­ing mo­bile roost­ing sheds, which they call “BumNut Huts”, means they ac­com­mo­date twice the chick­ens at one third of the price of sheds on the mar­ket.

“We have fo­cused on stream­lin­ing pro­cesses like in­vest­ing in a grad­ing ma­chine that saves time in man­ual labour and saved the cost of a wage for one per­son, which paid for it­self in one year,” Theresa says.

“We think we can run a busi­ness that stays true to what con­sumers think is free-range.

“Our cus­tomers un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence and con­sumers are ask­ing the ques­tion about the prove­nance of their food and car­ing about whether the prac­tices are hu­mane and sus­tain­able.”

HOME RANGE: Craig and Theresa Robin­son run BumNuts Aus­tralia at Gun­ning, NSW, pic­tured with their chil­dren, from left, Wil­liam, Emily, Chloe and Ayla. PHOTO: ADAM MCGRATH

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