Dimitri Mackoski of Local Village Produce is fulfilling a dream of running his own poultry at a time when a perfect storm of a pandemic, heat wave and a flooded railway line saw demand for eggs skyrocket. Dim is both thankful for the fortuitous timing of his venture, while simultaneously regretting not launching on a larger scale.
“You know how many times, I wonder, why didn’t I put 1000 in straight away?” laughs Dim. “I have too much demand – even if I double or triple my chickens, it probably still won’t be enough.”
Dimitri is the proud caretaker of 200 happy hens on his Muckenburra property.
“The chickens in my yard are free to run around and stretch, dust their bodies and eat grass and bugs to their heart’s content,” he said.
“At night, they settle comfortably into a resting house to sleep. Their yard is over 1300 sqm and built to protect them from predators.
“I feed them with natural grains – wheat, barley, corn and sunflower – and they can graze on grass at their leisure through the day. Maybe if I used commercial food, I could go bigger, but I want to remain natural.”
Dimitri is originally from Macedonia and has experiencing farming chickens and pigs, and growing grapes and apples.
“There’s not a lot of difference, farming between the countries,” he said. “Just the weather. Many more cold months in Macedonia. Here, as soon as it hits 35 degrees, the sprinkler goes on and the chickens all rush under it – I didn’t expect that! Not something I experienced back in Europe.”
WA Commercial Egg Producers Association President Ian Wilson says the egg shortage in WA can be traced back to before Christmas and it is expected to be another 2-3 months before there is any resemblance of normality on the shelves.
“Christmas and Easter are the two busiest times of the year for egg sales,” said Ian.
“COVID restrictions, then floods in South Australia with the railway line derailed meant we had no eggs coming across from the eastern states. Traditionally 20% of eggs sold in WA would normally come from the east coast.
“We have facilities and producers who maintain fairly regular production, but you can’t just turn the tap on overnight and produce more eggs. To hatch a chicken and get them producing eggs of a retail quality takes over six months.
“The hot weather hasn’t helped either, that impacts on production,” said Ian.
The shortage has meant consumers compromising on the type of eggs they purchase, or choosing to go without. After the revamping of egg labelling laws in 2018 and several high-profile court cases involving egg producers in the Gingin region, animal welfare – putting the chicken before the egg – is of high importance. Well-cared for chooks produce far tastier eggs!
Dim says, “I spoke to one shop owner and asked, ‘Many times when I deliver, I see you have full shelves of other eggs…so why you put pressure on me?’ He said, ‘Dimitiri, once we put YOUR eggs out, they last not even a day! When you are not there, they have to buy something else.”
While egg prices have remained stable with the increased demand, there are concerns that rising global grain prices, driven in part by the situation between Russia and Ukraine, will eventually have a flow on effect to producers and consumers.
For Dimitiri, thoughts of flood, pandemic and war are far from his mind when he is immersed in caring for his chickens (and sideline flocks of ducks and quails!). The experienced former businessman relishes the opportunity to be outdoors in a hands-on job.
“Back in Macedonia I worked in an office…and that just about killed me,” he said. “Offices, for me, are terrible things. Luckily, I had some land from my parents in a village 10 kms away from the town, where I produced everything I could. Saturdays and Sundays, that was my relaxation.”
“Now, you can find me sometimes sitting, talking to the chickens. I really relax, 100%, around here. Nothing makes me upset.”
Dim will be gradually expanding his flock to be able to fulfil more customer demand and his tranquil local village will soon be bustling – without counting chickens before they’ve hatched, of course!