Following in her family’s farming footsteps, Johanna Bell had a dream: to build a modern, environmentally friendly, sustainable farm. After completing a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Environment, she realised the potential of her family’s Tamborine Mountain property for small-scale, organic farming. With her parents, Leanne and Tim Presser, and her husband, Dave Bell, Johanna started Allamburra Organics, the family farm where they raise Australorp, Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens, to provide local consumers with delicious googie eggs. Allamburra Organics also offers a range of certified-organic products, available for delivery through their website. (www.allamburraorganics.com).
LEANNE & TIM PRESSER & JOHANNA BELL
Where did the name Allamburra come from?
LEANNE: I am from the country, from near Toowoomba. My parents had a farm at Allora called the Goomburra Homestead — the ‘burra’ in Allamburra. Tim’s from country South Australia. His family had a proper property, a real farm, and his place was called Allambee. So, we joined the two names together and got Allamburra. It has been a dream of ours.
Why chickens? Why eggs?
JOHANNA: We’ve always had chickens — twenty or thirty chickens — enough for us. When we had extra eggs, we’d give them to friends or family and it grew from there. People wanted to start paying for them.
LEANNE: They weren’t organic, at that stage, but the chickens ate good quality food.
JOHANNA: Everything we’ve done has been because there was a demand there for it. We’ve grown to suit that. To become certified organic was a big process. I basically had to write a thesis on biodiversity management plans, water management … everything. January last year, we bought our first 500 chickens.
LEANNE: We had to choose: do we go down the certified-organic track, or do we do free range?
JOHANNA: Our biggest thing is that we’re certified organic, not just organic or free range. They are different products, but a lot of people don’t realise that. We’re not just an egg farm. We are working on being a diverse producer. Being certified organic is not just about what we’re doing for the animals; it is what we’re doing for the property. We’re planting out a thousand native trees around the place.
Do the chickens prefer organic feed?
JOHANNA: As Mum said, for our original small group of chickens, we were buying good quality but standard feed, but when we started getting the certified-organic feed, those chickens, who’d basically stopped laying because most of them were old girls, all of a sudden, within less than a week, they re-feathered up and they started laying an egg every day!
LEANNE: One of them came out with black feathers with white dots on them. She’s been with us for five or six years and she’s malted numerous times, but when she went onto organic food she turned into The Queen Mother! Dead set! That’s what we call her now. She’s a regal-looking thing.
Is the certified-organic chicken feed expensive?
LEANNE: The organic food costs about seventy per cent more than normal food. We go through a tonne every two weeks, so that’s a lot of feed happening. With our chicken feed — well, any organic chicken feed — it is of such high quality. Sometimes, when there is a drought or something like that, when they’re not getting sufficient products to make the food for the chickens, they actually have to use food fit for human consumption so that we can still feed the chickens at the standard that they require. It costs more, but it is such good quality.
TIM: The thing is, with processed food, they add artificial colourings, such as carotene and whatever, to get the yolks so orange. The organic feed doesn’t have all of those added extras.
LEANNE: And it is all baked. We put our order in and they freshly make it and oven-bake it.
TIM: It is warm and it smells so good.
LEANNE: It is amazing, the food. We’re eating the produce from that chook, and to know it has only eaten what we can eat.
JOHANNA: More and more we are having people tell us that they can’t eat eggs but they can eat our eggs. It blows our minds.
Why do you care so much about organics?
LEANNE: It is about how you feel. What you feed yourself should be good. It should be a quality product. Overall, to be healthy is something we all want to be. Many people only realise the meaning of genuine certified organic after they’ve been ill. Some people who’ve been sick, they will only eat certified organic, and that is one of the reasons we chose be certified. There is a niche market of people out there that really care.
Are you planning on getting more chickens?
LEANNE: We are in the process of getting our next 500 or 600, and that is probably going to be our limit.
JOHANNA: We need to do that to keep up with customer demand, as we’re unable to keep up at the moment. But, we’re not going to have thousands of chickens, so we are diversifying what we do.
What else do you grow on the farm?
JOHANNA: Avocados. The orchard is a bit of an experiment. We have different varieties of limes and lychees. We’re figuring out what grows best up here and we’re thinking that, later this year, we might plant out a proper lychee orchard.
LEANNE: We also sell other certified-organic products, such as kombucha, coffee beans and things like that, and that is all in the Allamburra house.
Where do you sell your eggs?
JOHANNA: Our big thing is we do a lot of direct distribution. People go to our website and order everything directly from us. We also sell through cafés and restaurants, and along the way we do deliveries. Basically, from Cooloongatta to Brisbane.
How long can a chicken lay?
JOHANNA: Commercial farms will keep them for one-and-a-half years.
LEANNE: But a chooky can lay until — what? We’ve had one lay until she was eight. The Queen Mother is nearly seven. So, they still lay. Normally it takes about twenty-five hours to make an egg and pop it out, and you’ve already started the next one. That old saying, that they always lay their eggs in the morning, isn’t true. Some chickens lay at first light, but they’re laying all day until early evening. Whenever they’re ready to pop, they pop.
JOHANNA: I’d say our biggest egg collection time would be from ten until two-ish.
LEANNE: But, when they get old, they don’t seem to produce an egg every twenty-five hours. They slow down. People often ask what we are going to do with the chickens after they finish laying. We love the chickens and they have a great life, but we also want this to be viable so we can continue to have quality eggs. And that was part of what Johanna had to do in her thesis for the certification. We had to say what we were going to do with 500 chickens. We’re planning to make organic stock.
You seem to love the chickens. What is it about them?
LEANNE: They are quite intelligent little creatures. Let’s say, from one week old, a hawk flies over, they all run for cover and they’re dead quiet. They don’t move. But, a cockatoo, a kookaburra, a currawong — no.
JOHANNA: They are suspicious of anything that soars. So, even if a hang-glider comes over — they don’t like that. But they’ve picked up the different bird sounds. This afternoon, a cockatoo flew over and it was calling and they didn’t care about it.
LEANNE: They are born with an innate ability to know what is danger and what is not. They’ve been brought up with us, not by their mother, and yet … It is instinctive.
JOHANNA: We are with them all of the time. We’re here all day, so if we hear anything, we can go out and check on them. During the day, while she’s watering or something, you’ll hear Mum singing to the chickens.
LEANNE: We’re the chicken chicks!
What is it you love most about the lifestyle?
JOHANNA: We love our chickens and we love our place here. We want to look after what we have, while getting the most out of it.