Papanui Open Range Eggs

The Papanui Philosophy

We should enjoy what we do each day.

We want other people to enjoy what we do each day.

We believe that we are just temporary custodians of the land we farm.

We want to leave the land in a more stable and healthier state than we found it.

In order for us to produce healthy food we must have healthy plants and animals.

We believe there are better ways to produce animal products than the factory farming model that has become so prevalent these days.

We focus on the quality of the food we produce and the quality of life that our animals enjoy in producing that food.

We believe that the soil is the source of all sustainable production and that it is the number one priority, to be protected and enhanced at all times.

The Killen's

Papanui Open Range Eggs

Breakfast at Papanui

Our Story

Papanui has been the home to the Killen family since 1964. It is located near Merriwa in the Upper Hunter Valley of NSW, a 3 to 4 hour drive north of Sydney. Covering over 800 hectares of fertile basalt soils with an average rainfall of 600mm.

Aerial View

Papanui – Aerial View

Mark & Di are the second generation to run this farm, Mark’s mother still lives on Papanui.  Mark and Di’s son Henry is also on the farm now and their daughter Sarah lives and works in Sydney but also contributes to the egg enterprise with creative ideas.

















Lincoln Red Bull at the Sydney Show

Lincoln Red Bull at the Sydney Show

We are proud of our land and manage it as well as we can to preserve the rich but highly erodible basalt soils. In years past we have cropped for wheat, barley, oats, canola, lupins, faba beans, sorghum, Lucerne for hay and run a Lincoln Red Cattle stud, a merino wool enterprise and had fat lambs.

Canola Crop

Canola Crop

These days we have simplified our mix to 2 complimentary enterprises, beef cattle and open range eggs. Very little if any of Papanui is now cropped. Our soils are managed to provide a high degree of soil cover, we aim to have 100% coverage with plants and leaf litter, although this has been unachievable in recent years due to the long running drought.

Papanui is divided into about 150 separate paddocks so we can manage the pastures to the high degree we desire. Typically each paddock will only be grazed by cattle for 1 to 3 days at a time, and pasture plants have a recovery period of between 30 and 120 days before being grazed again. As a result an average paddock on Papanui is only grazed for 12 days each year, leaving 353 days without cattle trampling it.

Cows and Chooks

Cows and Chooks

Our chooks follow behind the cattle on the lower land where access is easier for our mobile houses which we have made from old school buses. Each bus has about 500 hens, with enough roosting space for all, plus large communal laying boxes that allow the freshly laid egg to roll away from the chook to keep it cool and safe until it is collected each day. The chooks enjoy the pasture conditions that exist after a large herd of cattle has passed through – we run between 200 and 400 cattle in the mob in front of the chooks. The resultant flattened grass and cow dung is a perfect place for a chook to get a great feed each day. The chooks also have access to fresh water and a commercially produced layer ration at all times.


Guard dog in training

Additionally they are protected from predators by Maremma dogs that live with them, 2 for each bus. There is no fencing or any other barrier, the chooks can roam as far and wide as they desire – the only time they are enclosed is every few days just after dark, when we move their bus to a fresh area, sometimes we move them 300 meters, sometimes 3 kilometers, it just depends where the cattle ahead of them have been.


Collecting the eggs

We collect the eggs each night, at the same time we feed the dogs – we can’t feed the dogs until the chooks have gone to roost or else the chooks eat the dogs’ food, the dogs just stand and watch their meal disappear – they are so dedicated to looking after the chooks! The eggs are stored in our cool room until we deliver them to our retailers, cafes, caterers and restaurants.

Raising the chooks

Raising our little chicks

We raise our replacement chooks from day olds on Papanui, it was the only way we could obtain healthy chooks with a full beak, commercial growers want to debeak if delivery is to be past 12 weeks of age. We think a full beak is important for the chook to be able to forage properly. Intensively run hens are routinely debeaked to combat cannibalism, we don’t find it to be a big problem with our chooks, and we suppose that they have plenty of other things to keep them occupied! Pecking does occur – you’ve heard the term “pecking order”? Well that’s how chooks figure out who is the boss.

At the end of the 1990′s Mark’s off-farm job was managing a farm nearby for a city based family. He became interested in running chooks in the olive grove that was part of that farm for meat rather than egg production. Mark’s skill as selling the idea to the farm’s owners when they returned from a holiday was not as great as his enthusiasm was for the whole concept of running chooks outside as opposed to the factory farming way that is seen as normal these days.


The first 50 chooks

Not to be defeated he decided to trial 50 egg laying hens on his own farm reasoning that egg layers would be more forgiving of management mistakes than meat birds as he still had his off-farm job. The idea was to learn what could go wrong on a small scale, then to move to the production of meat birds. So hastily, a hen house was constructed from an old caravan; a Maremma dog was purchased and installed in the farm-house chook yard awaiting the arrival of the 50 pullets.


Pippa our first Mareema dog

pippapuppy pippapuppy   This was in May, by August we were collecting 50 eggs a day and had run out of friends who needed eggs, so we started to sell them in our local town. Initially we delivered the eggs when Di went to Merriwa shopping, and then we came to an arrangement with our local IGA supermarket. We still sell our eggs at this supermarket, one of our best clients. The demand for our eggs began there, people would take them as gifts to Sydney friends and so demand slowly emerged in Sydney as well. We finally realised that these were special eggs, and still haven’t got around to doing the meat chicken thing – although we wish someone nearby would, there is just nothing like a real free-range chicken dinner.


The end of a day at Papanui

We have thought a lot about becoming accredited as organic, not the least for marketing, but so far we have rejected it for the following reasons;

  • We have our chooks vaccinated as day olds against preventable illnesses as when they are being raised they are confined at close quarters and disease can devastate these young chicks. We treat them with a drench in their drinking water sometimes, at most twice a year – tape worms are sometimes a cause of illness in “true” free range chooks as the worm has intermediary hosts that include earthworms and flies, two of a chook’s favorite foods!
  • Also on the higher parts of our farm there is a very nasty plant called tiger pear – a cactus plant with long barbed spines that will puncture straight through a tyre or a leather boot, so you can imagine what it is like for a poor cow, or a working dog. It is public enemy number one around here, and when conditions allow us to find it (it is very hard to spot in tall grass), mostly during winter drought, we kill it using chemical spray, as this is the only economical and reliable way of dealing with this pest.
  • We also like to keep the option to drench our newly weaned beef calves in autumn when they have to endure the stress of leaving their mother, plus we vaccinate all our cattle against preventable illness.

A fertiliser plane taking off from Papanui airstrip

Sometimes we apply fertilizer to our farm to correct soil deficiencies, mainly sulphur, but also molybdenum at times, with selenium perhaps something we will need to consider in the future.


Loading fertiliser into the plane on Papanui

These activities mean that organic certification would not be possible for us. Our annual chemical bill is typically less than $500 these days, we are not happy with high chemical use, not the least because of the health of our family and employees who have to apply them and of course the high cost. When we were growing grain crops the annual expense was in excess of $20,000. As far as vaccination goes, we have a real issue with the organic movement in opposing their use, “unless there is a demonstrated problem”!! The definition of a vaccine is it prevents illness, it does not cure it – once contracted the vaccine is useless!! As parents we immunised our children, as farmers we do the same for our animals, period. Animal welfare is about having healthy animals first and foremost. This also applies to having healthy balanced soils, so we can grow healthy plants for our animals to eat. Over the years since we started (May, 2001) we’ve had quite a few emails from customers wanting to know why we’re not organically accredited, below is a copy of part of a reply to one such query. Thanks for your enquiry, and your support. I agree with your assumption re some other ‘organic’ farms – I’ve seen many that just don’t get the concept of environmental sustainability and in particular animal welfare aspects.

  • We run a beef cattle breeding and fattening operation on the same land that our chooks run on, the chooks follow the cattle in a planned rotational grazing regime. So for us to be certified organic it is a whole farm approach, as it should be.
  • As part of our cattle breeding operation we wean the calves from their mothers according to seasonal conditions. In recent years early weaning has been an important tool as the ongoing drought has meant little feed in the paddocks at times. These early weaned calves require much more care than if they were weaned later ( 2 months of age vs. 8 months ) and control of internal parasites which multiply rapidly in calves when stressed using properly formulated and effective drench is mandatory if you want to prevent many sick and dying calves. Feed in the form of calf pellets which have undergone heat treatment to ensure the high protein is available to the calf’s intestinal tract is also required. Vaccination to any possible disease outbreak, which could reasonably be expected to occur due to the close confinement of the small calves is also required. All 3 of these practices would not be allowed under an organic certification.
  • On the steeper parts of our farm we have a nasty weed called tiger pear. A cactus, it has long barbed spines which can easily penetrate a leather work boot – also cows legs, mouths, eyes, noses, udders, and working dogs. If the plant is disturbed mechanically e.g.. a hoe, it sheds many small pieces which all have the capacity to take root and grow a new plant. This weed grows in stony hard to access areas. Control is best achieved using a small 5 litre garden sprayer type bottle carried up the hills by hand putting out the weedicide that is specifically recommended for tiger pear. I have been doing this over the last 3 winters when it seemed about the only positive thing I could do in a drought ravaged landscape. Tiger pear is particularly hard to see, but when all the other plants are brown due to drought, it stands out more, so control is more easily achieved. Of course this is chemical treatment, a no-no with organic certification. No matter that the total amount of chemical concentrate that I have applied over the last 3 years is less than 5 litres! (on 2200 acres)

Are you familiar with Joel Salatin’s philosophy? He is my hero. Our egg production is based on his experience. He also has problems with the “organic” movement, particularly as it applies in the USA, with large corporations growing monocultures of organic produce and shipping it vast distances. He calls himself “beyond organic” which seems fair, but we certainly couldn’t lay claim to that status on our farm. Maybe we should call ourselves “over organic” which is what I am, but a bit cynical I suppose. Joel’s philosophy is “let our customers come out to the farm and see how we do things, be transparent” and that too is our thing. You are most welcome to visit, just give us a bit of warning so we can co-ordinate.