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