From social science to free range farming

Randal and Juanita Breen started Echo Valley Farms, a holistic farming business with free range chickens, pigs and a brangus stud.
Randal and Juanita Breen started Echo Valley Farms, a holistic farming business with free range chickens, pigs and a brangus stud. Contributed

STARTING a farm might seem an unlikely career choice for a couple of social science graduates, but for Randal and Juanita Breen, it just made sense.

The duo runs Echo Valley Farms, a holistic farming enterprise near Goomburra on the Southern Downs that started with free range chickens.

Mrs Breen said she and Randal met in Brisbane while studying social science and ethics at university, and despite neither of them growing up on a farm, they knew an ethical farming enterprise was exactly what they wanted.

Mr Breen had plenty of farming relatives, but had never lived on the land.

They sought out a property in Coleyville, south-west of Ipswich, and set up with a small run of hens.

"We started with a flock of 250 hens and a little caravan, but instantly we couldn't keep up with demand,” Mrs Breen said.

"It just took off.

"We soon realised we would need to expand to make it a viable farming enterprise.”

They looked into expanding at Coleyville, but thanks to town planners treating their little flock of free rangers the same as a shed housing thousands of chickens, they decided to look further.

They came across Southern Downs Regional Council and said the team there couldn't have been more helpful, nor the local residents more welcoming.

Despite their unusual enterprise, she said other local farmers had embraced them like the residents of Coleyville never did.

"I think when we first arrived here, everyone locally was like, 'what on Earth is going on here?',” Mrs Breen said.

"But despite having differences to traditional farming, they have been incredibly supportive and very embracing of our system.

"When council laws were changed recently and we had to put in a development application they were all so helpful.”

For the past two-and-a-half years the couple has worked solidly towards a target of a "full circle” production where they have control over every element of the process.

That meant the next step was getting the land to the point where they could grow their own fodder.

The 350-acre property had 150 acres under cultivation that the Breens have been working to restore to natural pasture, an endeavour they were helped in with the addition of pigs to the livestock tally.

Mrs Breen said the pigs are the "bulldozers” of the operation, turning compacted soils and devouring weed rhizomes and roots as they forage.

She said the pigs were third in line for the pastures.

"The ideal system we're working towards is starting with premium cattle like bulls and heifers, and they'll eat the 'ice-cream' crop,” she said.

"The main herd comes next to graze it down to chicken height, then the chooks come through and spread out all the manure.

"Because the chooks are following the cattle, they're also reducing the burden of pests like ticks.”

She said they had only scratched the surface of their grand plan, but it was important to step back sometimes and appreciate the positive changes that have already taken place, starting with the reappearance of worms and other biodiverse soil life.

Topics:  free range eggs

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