From miner to free range chicken farmer
WHEN the mining downturn hit, Matt Coulson and his wife Christie found their silver lining in an unlikely place - a chicken farm.
The couple are now owners of Coastal Harvest, a free range pasture egg farm in Coowonga, north east of Rockhampton.
Matt left his job in the mines to start the farm, which also produces aquaponically grown vegetables and fish.
"I used to be out at the mines,” Matt said.
"But there was a fair amount of uncertainty about what was going to happen and I was quite fortunate to have an opportunity to get out of the mining.
"This kind of lifestyle is something we wanted our kids exposed to.”
The farm has become a family affair.
Christie said she had fond memories of growing up on a fruit farm and wanted her children to have the same upbringing.
"It gave us the freedom as kids to run around and do what we wanted and get back to nature,” Christie said.
"That's what we kinda want for our children as well, and give them the freedom to explore and to be a part of our business.”
Matt said their 900 strong flock were as independent as chickens get with the farm's strong focus on animal welfare.
"We've got two moveable coops we move around the property,” Matt said.
"The main benefit is to the chickens themselves, so they are free to roam.”
The Couslons have designed their sheds so the chickens are never locked in and free to get up at the crack of dawn as some of them like to do.
"They take themselves to bed when they want, the nest boxes are there and they come and go as they please.
"So it's really more about the chickens freedom, more-so than the egg production.”
Currently the farm sells eggs to the farmers markets in Yeppoon as well as 20 retailers, restaurants and cafes across Rockhampton and Yeppoon.
It's not just chickens on the farm, dogs have also been employed to help keep the brood safe.
"They keep all of our predators away. The look after the chickens obviously as well and they let us know when there's something about,” Christie said.
"And to be honest we haven't had problems with any predators, they've been great.”
The pair aim to make the chicken's well-being their top priority and prefer to keep their chickens the old fashioned way.
"We like to say that having your own chickens in your backyard is the best thing and if you can't do that, we're the next best thing,” Matt said.
"At the moment, there is a very broad definition of what free range farming means,
"Because, by definition at the moment we could have 10,000 chickens per shed with reasonable and meaningful access to outdoors.
"But we've gone that extra one step further.
"I guess what we're trying to do is deliver what people expect free range egg farming to be.
"It's a 24/7 commitment. The actual labour that's required to do the farming isn't a lot, but we still need to be here.
"We collect several times a day, try and ensure the eggs are as fresh as they can be.”