Many of the products you see at the supermarket carry various logos and labels declaring their quality. But as a consumer, it’s not every day that you get a glimpse into the real life stories behind these labels. To help shed some light on the world of RSPCA Approved eggs, we thought we’d share the tale of a family farm in WA that converted to cage free production in order to prioritise animal welfare.
MMM farm is the only Western Australian egg farm currently participating in the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme. Having been involved in the program for more than 15 years, MMM has a long history with the RSPCA.
The Ms in the name of the business stand for Mick, Marie and Michele. Before pooling their resources together to buy the farm back in 1992, Mick, Marie and Michele worked in very different industries. Mick was a public servant, his wife Marie worked at a daycare centre, while Michele worked on another egg farm with her brothers.
When asked what inspired the trio to pick a farm as their joint business venture, Mick recalls his childhood on a wheat and sheep farm three and a half hours southeast of Perth.
‘I had a farming background,’ he says. ‘And when it comes to stock, the principles are pretty much the same.’
Although the farm was built for cage egg production, Mick, Marie and Michele made the decision very early on to convert to cage-free.
‘Animal welfare, that’s what I like,’ says Mick. ‘We started straight away with the cage transition and over a period of four years, we transitioned each shed.’
It was a big task and MMM were careful to do their homework, seeking expert advice and the latest equipment and technology from countries including Holland, Germany and Denmark – places with more experience in commercial cage-free farming.
These days, MMM has both free range and barn laid production systems. While consumers often think that free range is the best cage-free system for hens, a well managed barn can also be great for birds. In fact, it’s MMM’s barn laid eggs that carry the RSPCA Approved label.
Within the barns, the hens enjoy the space to move, perch, forage and dust bathe. They’re also able to lay their eggs in custom-designed nest boxes. (Mick says he often sees the birds flying between their perches and the ground.)
But there are other practical benefits to indoor housing systems too.
‘You don’t have that risk of exposure to the wild bird population and any associated diseases they might have,’ Mick explains. ‘Free range birds can also be at risk of predators.’
No matter which housing system they live in, hens are social, intelligent birds and deserve the freedom to express their natural behaviours.
‘They’re extremely inquisitive,’ says Mick. ‘If I went in the barn and scratched the floor, the hens would come right up to you and let you tickle them on the chin.’
When asked why more farms aren’t making the switch to cage-free, Mick explains it’s because cage farming – despite restricting a hen’s ability to express itself – is seen as being so much easier.
‘It’s too easy to do it in cage. It’s a numbers game – the more chooks you can run with the least number of people looking after them, the more economical it is. When animal welfare is your priority, you have to hire more people. That’s why the more support you have from customers, the more you can grow your farm and business.’
Because of this, the MMM team are particularly grateful to customers that choose to buy their eggs. They’re also proud to work with retailers like Gilbert’s Fresh Market (the Mandurah store is currently offering 2 cartons of MMM eggs for $5).
‘We want to say thanks to all the customers that buy our eggs and recognise that they’re RSPCA Approved,’ says Mick. ‘We really appreciate your support as it helps us look after our hens and our staff.’
Although he jokes that being part of the Approved Farming Scheme requires a lot of admin, Mick believes that being able to offer RSPCA Approved barn laid eggs is very worthwhile. Not only does the RSPCA label give consumers an assurance they can trust when they’re shopping at the supermarket, it’s also great for locally owned and operated farms like MMM to be part of a framework that prioritises animal welfare. As part of the Scheme, farms are assessed several times a year to ensure they meet the RSPCA’s detailed standards.
‘We’ve been on the program since the beginning…I still have paperwork dating back to 1999,’ Mick says. ‘It’s good for the industry to have that accreditation, it’s good for motivation on the farm and it’s good for morale when we can tell the staff they’ve done a good job looking after the hens.’
Right now more than 2 out of 3 Australian hens are confined to battery cages – that’s more than 11 million! And these hens have a miserable existence. Join our movement to end the battery cage.
You can read more stories like this such as There’s more to eggs than choosing ‘free range’ at Eat Humane.