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Free-range is eggxactly where it’s at

Sometimes when you get to a destination it feels like you are coming home, usually a combination of the how you respond to the physical space and most importantly the people. That’s what Kenilworth Free Range Farm was to us.

We arrived in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast on a dark and rainy night (yes, the irony was not lost on us), having taken a bus for a few hours from Brisbane airport. We spent one night in the McWilliams’ home “in town” before heading to Kenilworth Free Range Farm over in the Mary Valley.

Having always wanted to be a farmer, it took Gordon a few decades of working in shipping by day and bars and nightclubs by night before he decided to take the leap. Kenilworth Farm, the family’s holiday home, then got transformed into a gorgeous free range chicken farm.

Home to 1500 hens, there are three state of the art chicken coops called caravans, each housing just under 500 chooks. They each have their own paddock and are moved every few days within this space, and whole paddocks are then changed every two weeks or so to make sure there is a constant supply of fresh grass and bugs and for the health of the animals (in our case, that was also an excuse for an epic set of rolly-polly races). In the meantime, chooks are visited twice daily: in the morning, to pick up any eggs laid on the ground and to check both their water and grain levels in the feeders; and in the afternoon for similar checks and for the full egg collection off the conveyor belt (the laying houses give onto the conveyor belt so that’s where the fresh eggs are meant to end up). Every two days or so Gordon would bring the tractor and big water tank to refill the water system for each caravan.

In case you have never spent time around chooks, they are hugely entertaining. They peck (mostly harmlessly) at everything from toes to bums, and thrive on their independence (they will tend to run away if they see you coming in to grab them) – yet some will take a “position of submission” if you get too close. They also have a collective spirit that has them all running towards you clucking loudly to greet you and see what’s happening as you approach the fence, whether on foot, by car, or in the tractor.

A few stand out. Chili, the rebel who escapes her paddock every day and walks around the farm like she owns the place. And Blondie, who manages to be girly and look down at you even when she is staring up at you from the ground.

Other than keeping an eye out for diseases or particular issues such as mites, the greatest challenge is ensuring that the chooks are safe from eagles. We saw a few come by in search of an easy lunch, a wedge eagle and one sea eagle – which we not so affectionately nicknamed Stephen (get it? Stephen Sea-Eagle) – and sometimes succeeded. That was in spite of us keeping watch and the chooks having an incredible sixth sense leading them to run for cover minutes before any threat was visible to the human eye.

On average, Kenilworth Free Range Farm produces over 1200 eggs a day. Once collected, every egg is checked for cracks (the process is called “candling”) and processed, stamped and placed either into egg cartons or trays and crates for delivery.

Overly large, small, or odd eggs are set aside. Upon arrival, Gordon challenged us to use up all these “home use” eggs – and I dare say we rose to the challenge! Omelets, scrambled eggs, eggs and bacon for breakfast, banana bread, chocolate mousse, tiramisu… We made – and ate! – it all.

It was an incredible week. Aside from assisting in all chook-related activities, we also adjusted water pipes, cleaned up the garden, prepared a garden bed and planted turmeric, and I got to help deworm the horses while Francois drove the tractor!

The horses deserve a special mention. Gordon used to play polo and had four polo horses, plus a five-year-old “foal” from one of the mares. The horses used to get turned out during the off-season, left to go anywhere and everywhere on the property until it was time to start getting fit again. When Gordon stopped playing polo, he left the horses their freedom and they are now semi-wild ex-polo ponies. The oldest, Salty, is a staggering 38 years old which must be close to the world record.

For a horse-lover, it is exceptional to wake up in the morning and see a horse walk by in the garden as you go through the kitchen on your way to check on the chooks.

As if the above wasn’t idyllic enough, there is more! We went canoeing one afternoon with Emily, the McWilliams’ eldest daughter (11 years wise), as our guide up and down the river that borders one side of the property; we went clay pigeon shooting (I have to admit, Francois was a better aim than I was); we walked around the hills at night hunting wild pigs (no luck); and we played Pick-Up-Stick with the whole family (almost as fun as playing UNO!).

To date, it has been one of our favorite Workaway volunteer experiences and we look forward to returning the hospitality once we have a home!

Cet article n’existe qu’en anglais.

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