At a time when concerns are held for the continuation of farming in our region, comes news of the emergence of Crooked River Farm as a committed food producer with its sights set on the Sydney market.
Owned by retired Sydney businessman David Lhuede, the 385 acres between Fern St and the Highway, runs behind Elambra Estate and down to Crooked River. It is rich farming land formerly owned by the Millers and the Campbells.
After a three years of infrastructure improvement and planning, Crooked River Farm has just launched itself as a free range egg and chicken producer with big ambitions.
“For some time now we’ve been buying, fattening and selling Angus Hereford cattle, and breeding and selling sheep,” says Farm manager Craig Williams.
“We’re currently running 220 cattle and 500 sheep.”
Williams, who has lived in the area for 15 years and was born and bred on a dairy farm in New Zealand, has now become expert in chicken raising and management.
“With the meat chickens, we are starting with having 200 birds ready to be processed each week,” he says.
“We are raising a standard breed that takes just 60 days to reach optimise size.”
The pens with the birds of different ages are closely guarded from foxes and predatory birds by Italian sheepdogs, called Maremmas.
“The dogs are very protective, and allow our birds to be free range on the pasture. We still feed them grain, but they are much happier birds than those grown in cages.
“They are able to forage for bugs and generally act like birds. In return, they fertilise the pasture for us.”
As an added benefit, Craig believes these ethically produced birds taste better.
The birds will be processed on-site, in a mobile poultry abattoir. (This is a different type of abattoir to that proposed for Rose Valley, without the same planning restrictions.)
The other aspect of the Farm’s poultry business involves free range egg production.
The Farm will soon have 900 chickens laying in chicken caravans which enable them to be moved around. The caravans were custom designed and built on-site, as were all of the other trailers, shelters and water carts needed for the operation.
Again, the Maremmas are on guard to protect the chickens.
The volume of birds on the farm will increase as customers are found, both locally and in Sydney.
“The operation has been designed so we can ramp up production when the distribution market has been established,” says Craig.
“There is a big demand from chefs and families for food that is produced this way – people want to know more about where their food comes from.
“We had a great reception at the Kiama Farmers’ Market on our first week. People were excited to know they will be able to buy chickens and eggs processed locally.”
David Lhuede says he has been involved with working farms for over 20 years, and hopes to spend more time on the property where he enjoys playing a hands-on role.
“As time passes, the mix of animals we run might change, especially as our poultry business grows,” he says.