Thursday 14 November 2013

Hansard of the Legislative Council



[11.06 a.m.]

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, more Tasmanians are growing their own fruit and vegetables than they have for decades, probably since I was a boy, and that is a few years ago. If you ask any local nursery how their vegetable seeds and seedlings are selling, you will find the response will be very positive. It may be a passing fashion, but it is there. People want to save money on food and they like to think what they grow themselves is healthier.

The same thing is happening with eggs. I am sure many of us remember the days of our parents keeping a few chooks, and in those days it was quite expensive to buy a chicken for the Sunday roast. We probably remember the old chopping block and the smell of wet plucked feathers. That is a smell that I cannot stand to this day.

If you need persuading of the interest in small-scale egg production and in maintaining pure poultry breeds, you need only look at the Poultry Club of Tasmania's annual auction. It is held at the Longford Showgrounds on the Sunday after Agfest in May each year.

Ms Rattray - That is not in your electorate.

Mr FINCH - I am roaming far and wide. This year about 370 lots were auctioned to a large crowd of all ages. To cut to the chase, the Exeter High School, in my electorate, sold 15 Barnevelder pullets bred by the students and they fetched fantastic prices. That rare breed from Holland, and we see a few of those, has a big genetic base in Tasmania carefully maintained by enthusiastic breeders. Anyone who listens to ABC radio on a Saturday morning will hear Paul Healy, in the member for Huon's electorate, talking about them.

Ms Rattray - He talks about small holdings.

Mr FINCH - Yes, but these Barnevelder chickens are his specialty. Other popular breeds at the Longford auction were Australorps, Wyandottes, Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Langshans and Welsummers. Most of those breeds at the Longford auction sold for more than $50 each. They bring in a lot of money, particularly for the Exeter High School.

Breeders realise it is important to keep this genetic stock viable so that the larger poultry industry has that breeding base which they need. Many highly efficient egg producing hybrid birds - ISA Browns and Hylines - were developed from some of these older breeds. The Australian poultry industry would be the poorer without them.

If you head into Launceston on the old Hobart Road from the Breadalbane turnoff, in the member for Western Tiers' electorate, you pass on your right a new complex of steel buildings and silos. This is Seedhouse Tasmania which, among other things, produces a range of poultry food. It is Tasmanian owned and it uses mainly Tasmanian-grown grains. Its mixture of cracked grains in bags is sold mainly for small and backyard poultry keepers. There is one mixture specially formulated for backyard and free-range hens. Seedhouse's manager, Matt Crane, says sales are booming. He believes that small-scale poultry keeping is more popular in Tasmania than other states.

One of the big problems faced by amateur egg producers is a regular production. Unlike commercial producers, who use techniques like timed lighting and strategic breeding to compensate for the drop in production as the daylight hours shorten, small producers have famines or gluts. When they have too many eggs, they mostly give some away or they sell at the roadside or through their local shop, and some sell at farmers markets, like the Launceston Harvest Market.

Ms Rattray - Let's hope they can continue to do that.

Mr FINCH - Yes. Their eggs are popular because they are mostly free range and very fresh. Buyers have the impression, of course, that the eggs come from hens kept in humane and healthy conditions, and usually they are right. It is impossible to quantify the number of small poultry breeders in Tasmania, and I expect the numbers vary from decade to decade. I believe that small-scale egg production and interest in keeping poultry is now on a roll throughout Tasmania. We know the state government is trying to adapt the coming national egg code so it does not harm Tasmania's amateur poultry industry. I believe successful modifications have been made in other states.

One important point I would like to make, which we legislators need to keep in mind, is that when people do not respect the law and decide to break it, a culture can develop - a culture that says laws are to be broken if they do not entirely suit us. That is detrimental to any society and that makes the law an ass.