The farm that made the switch from cage to cage free
Many products in the supermarket are marked with labels and logos that declare their quality. As a consumer, you don’t often get to see the stories behind these labels. We thought that we would share the story of a WA family farm that converted to cage-free production to prioritize animal welfare.
MMM Farm is currently the only Western Australian farm participating in the RSPCA-approved farming scheme. MMM’s involvement in the RSPCA program dates back more than 15 years.
The Ms are Mick, Marie, and Michele. Mick, Marie, and Michele all worked in different industries before pooling resources to buy the farm in 1992. Mick worked as a public employee, Marie was employed at a childcare center, and Michele ran an egg farm.
Mick recalled his childhood growing up on a sheep and wheat farm located three and a quarter hours south of Perth.
He says, ‘I came from a farming background.’ “And when it comes down to stock, they are all pretty similar.”
Mick, Marie, and Michele decided to go cage-free very early, even though the farm was originally built to produce cage eggs.
Mick says, ‘Animal Welfare, that’s my thing.’ We started with the cage conversion and gradually transitioned every shed over four years.
MMM was careful to research the task and sought expert advice, as well as the latest technology and equipment from countries such as Holland, Germany, and Denmark, which have more experience with commercial cage-free agriculture.
MMM offers both barn-lay and free-range production systems. Although consumers tend to think of free-range as the best cageless system for hens and birds, a well-managed barn can be just as good. MMM’s Barn Laid Eggs are the only ones that RSPCA has approved.
The hens can move around, perch on a post, forage, and dust bathe in the barns. The hens can also lay their eggs inside custom-made nest boxes. (Mick reports that he sees birds flying between perches and the earth.)
Indoor housing systems also have other benefits.
Mick explains, “You don’t run the risk of being exposed to wild bird populations and their diseases.” Free-range birds are also at risk from predators.
Hens are intelligent, social birds that deserve to be allowed to express themselves in their natural behavior.
Mick says, “They are very curious.” If I scratched the barn floor, they would come up and let me tickle their chins.
Mick says that cage farming is easier than cage-free – even though it restricts a hen’s ability to express herself.
It’s just too easy in a cage. It’s all about numbers – the fewer people you need to take care of the chooks, the cheaper it will be. If animal welfare is a priority, then you need to hire more staff. The more customers you have, the better your business will grow.
The MMM team is grateful for the customers who buy their eggs. In addition, they are proud to partner with retailers such as Gilbert’s Fresh Market. (The Mandurah location currently offers two cartons of MMM eggs at $5).
Mick says, ‘We would like to thank all of our customers who buy our eggs because they know that they are RSPCA approved.’ We really appreciate your support, as it helps to look after our hens.
Mick jokes about the amount of paperwork involved in being a part of an approved farming scheme, but he believes it is worth it to be able to offer RSPCA-approved barn-laid eggs. The RSPCA label is a great way to reassure customers when shopping in the supermarket. It’s also a great opportunity for local farms, like MMM, to be part of a framework that prioritizes animal welfare. The Scheme requires that farms be assessed at least three times per year to make sure they are meeting the RSPCA’s standards.
Mick says, ‘We have been part of the program from the very beginning…I even still have documents dating back to 1999.’ It’s great for the industry and good for motivation and morale to tell staff that they did a good job caring for the hens.