Meet the Gympie family behind Forage Farms

FAMILY AFFAIR: Hamish and Lachlan Andrews with their parents Stuart and Megan.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Hamish and Lachlan Andrews with their parents Stuart and Megan.

STUART Andrews and his family are continuing on the natural sequence farming work of his father Peter, while also having success with eggs and pork.

The family lives on their property called Riverside, located in Kybong just south of Gympie.

The 105ha property produces free-range eggs and, more recently, pork.

"We have 8000 chickens - 6000 of those are producing eggs and the other 2000 are only young birds that are coming into lay,” he said.

"We also have 16 sows and then progeny of those coming through.

"We also have a small herd of cattle and a small flock of sheep.”

The eggs the chickens lay are cleaned and packaged on the farm and then sold in stores throughout Queensland and used by local cafes.

"The eggs are picked here, they then go into a cool room, then we put them through our egg-cleaning machine and it weighs and grades them as well,” he said.

"Then they're all packed by hand. We have three ladies that come in and help the rest of the people working here on pack day.

"All the eggs are packed into their dozen packs or into their cafe boxes, depending on where they're going. It's all done there and then they are distributed out.”

The farm is also moving into selling its pork, already supplying local butchers and a few restaurants.

The family is passionate about regenerative agriculture, with Stuart's father, Peter, the visionary behind natural sequence farming.

"I run courses in landscape rehabilitation and farmers can see that natural sequence farming is very practical for what they are doing,” he said.

While the eggs are sold and the pigs are used as pork for local butchers, they both play another role on the farm.

"The thing to understand about a landscape is if a landscape is in a degraded situation, then you're really only trying to prop it up to keep it going,” he said.

"If you have a landscape that is degraded and fertility is low, you introduce the likes of chickens and pigs as primary colonising animals into that landscape to build it.

"This is one way that I'm trialling that people can utilise on a small or large scale, but I thought it's better that I trial it, because I'd rather know it can work so that I can freely offer that information to people.”

While the pigs and the chickens are having a scratch around the farm, they are also disrupting and aerating the soil in the ground, and fertilising by leaving their dropping.

This starts the rehabilitation part of natural sequence farming.

Regeneration is done when the chickens and pigs are moved to fresh pasture, which increases the growth and gives the animals better, fresher food.

"The chickens are moved weekly, the feeders are picked up and moved with a loader, and then I have a mechanism I made up for the tractor which moves the chicken houses,” he said.

"You can't go too far, if you do the chickens tend not to follow, so we move them forward enough so that they will follow and continue on.”

The chickens are also protected by the family's maremma dogs, who give any approaching predators a stern warning.

"If a wild dog or fox is approaching, the maremmas will give them a warning to make them think twice about it,” he said.

"The main predators they have to deal with are the ones from the sky.

"If there's an eagle, the dogs will bark and give a warning to the chickens and then they'll bark at the eagle to deter it, but we haven't lost any chickens to predators.”

Stuart's two sons are also showing a keen interest in agriculture.

"Our eldest son, Hamish, finished school at the end of 2016. He decided to take a year off before going to university,” he said.

"For all of 2017 he was here helping us run the farm. He's certainly been well and truly hands-on, and in charge of the pigs.

"Our other son, Lachlan, is still at school in Gympie but when he is home he's on the farm helping us do whatever.

"He's a bit of a repairman so he likes fixing all the machines - or at least having a go anyway.”

Topics:  chickens eggs free range eggs gympie pigs pork

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