We are always asking: what came first, the chicken or the egg? For Ben Jackson at Fluffetts, the chicken always comes first. Naughty hens, lazy hens and crazy hens – who knew that hens could come with their very own little personalities? This week, Ben chats to us all about how he ensures all his hens are HAPPY hens living free range in Avon Valley.
00:00:00 Marks introduction
00:02:19 Meeting Ben Jackson, setting the scene in Avon Valley, west of Ringwood
00:04:01 How many hens and eggs does Ben have?
- 00:04:30 “Everyone always thinks ‘gosh, that’s a lot of chickens’ but it’s actually pretty small scale by today’s standards. If you think back when we started 20 years ago, producing eggs, we had 16,000 birds – we are still smaller than we were 20 years ago.”
00:05:35 How the chickens are kept – free range and flocks
00:06:42 Do all chickens enjoy going outside?
- 00:07:28 “The hens, if you can really sort of spend time with them, they learn the confidence to go out and spend time outdoors. That’s very difficult when you’ve got one person looking after 16,000 or more hens…”
- 00:08:53 “It’s like small children – when they’re sort of crying and in a tantrum you need to distract them then they’re fine!”
00:09:14 Is there a pecking order for chickens? Do they have personalities?
00:10:57 Do hens actually want to go outside?
- 00:11:29 “When we open up what we call the pop holes to allow the hens to go outside, they’ll come rushing out its sort of like opening a dam… You only have to witness that once to witness that free range is a better system.”
- 00:12:49 “I saw this BBC thing a while ago that explains how hens are the few sort of living relatives of the T-Rex… and it makes total sense that these are little dinosaurs!”
00:13:16 The scepticism of free range…
- 00:14:05 “You’ve got to sort of put it into perspective – if you can buy half a dozen free range eggs for a pound then they’re not going to be produced to the same level that a small scale farmer like we would do.”
00:14:22 Should there be another category for free range, or should consumers be going to local delis?
00:16:49 Where Fluffetts supplies
00:19:18 What do chickens eat?
- 00:19:36 “They’ll strip all the grass within the vicinity of the house, so one of the reasons we have a system where we move our hen house between each flock is so that we can re-seed the grass.”
- 00:24:15 “The other element that goes in there is sunflower. Sunflower provides a protein level and has got lots of good oils in it too.”
00:25:01 Are the eggs organic?
- 00:26:03 “It’s a difficult one because in my mind I’d rather the diet be more… At least we know 70% of the diet is local, and I think that is important.”
00:27:30 Night time for the hens!
- 00:28:05 “An egg is produced sort of every 25 hours by a hen.”
- 00:28:57 “These days we have quite a big gap till the first feed in the afternoon and the gap is to mimic what they’ve observed that birds do in the wild. If you’ve got a bird table and the time to examine when the birds come to the bird table and when they eat the most…”
00:31:44 Why do hens only produce eggs when there is light?
- 00:31:54 “When it gets to sort of ten hours of light or something they would naturally want to switch off… It’s nature saying that it’s winter and it’s not a good time to have a clutch of chicks.”
00:32:50 How long does it take for an egg to become a chick?
- 00:33:39 “What they call the hybrid hen has been selectively bred over years to produce at that time scale – but even a more traditional breed will lay an egg every 27 to 28 hours.”
00:34:11 Broilers – the chicken we eat for dinner!
- 00:34:39 “They would only be kept till sort of 70 or 80 days of age before they go to a table, whereas our birds are 16 weeks old when they arrive from the rearers so they’re already double the age of table birds.”
00:37:38 What does Fluffetts use to keep its hens entertained? Swings, pecking blocks and more…
- 00:39:02 “We don’t want to humanise an animal too much – it needs to be thought of more in terms of being able to exhibit natural behaviour and not be in any way stressed or threatened.”
00:39:40 The age of the hens and how this effects the size of the egg
- 00:41:44 “If you have a flock that comes into lay before they’re physically mature or physically able to do, that’s when you get lots of problems or stress issues later down the track.”
00:43:20 How long has Ben Jackson being doing Fluffetts? What was he up to before?
- 00:49:44 Being brought up on a farm
00:51:45 Bens love of farming
00:53:32 What happens to hens in retirement?
- 00:53:55 “The practicalities of rehoming three or four thousand chickens in an afternoon are not particularly easy so they go to a processor who is involved in taking hens from lots of farms…”
00:55:18 Using older animals for food – it requires good knowledge and/or the right chef!
01:00:25 Why do other people adopt the older hens?
- 01:00:45 “What happens is because the eggs get so much bigger, the shell of an egg is usually the same weight whether it’s a tiny egg or an extra-large egg, you’ve got the same amount of shell but it’s spread thinner… The shell becomes a lot more breakable so the eggs that are getting broken in the process are getting up to 15-20%.”
01:02:35 The Moba 2000 Grader!
01:04:24 Fluffetts own shop – why was it opened?
- 01:04:58 “The shop was partly because our regular farmers market in Salisbury was very popular and we do that twice a week… We already had an established market there and we combined that with selling local honey, meringues and preserves…”
01:07:19 What’s next for Ben and Fluffetts?
01:09:53 Did Ben learn a lot from running a Kite Surfing shop that’s influenced Fluffetts business?
- 01:10:28 “The lovely thing with the eggs is you’re producing the product rather than selling something someone else has produced – even if you’re absolutely in love with this kite – someone else has built it in Hawaii.”
01:11:30 What’s Ben’s favourite part of his job?
01:14:35 Marks thoughts and sign off
If you’d like to learn a bit more about Ben, his hens and Fluffetts – check out their website and social media below… Or, listen to the full episode here.
YouTube: Ben Jackson Fluffetts Farm