Clockwise from top. Madelaine feeding chickens. Collecting eggs from her mobile chook tractor; Her mobile bedroom built by her dad. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt
Nineteen year old Madelaine Scott is an egg farmer and has been for twelve years. While people her age are often studying or still trying to find their feet, Madelaine is a full-time farmer running her own business.
How did Madeleine come to being a successful egg farmer at her age, a business she has built up herself from scratch? Well a lot of it comes back to being homeschooled by her parents Rob and Colita. Rather than sitting down in a classroom and learning addition and subtraction, and biology, Madelaine’s parents thought the best way for their children to learn was by doing. So they encouraged all their children to start up a small business. When she was seven they helped her get a few chickens and start selling her eggs.
‘By running that business she learnt maths, science, how to kill animals, how to nurture, how to use an incubator, how to read, public speaking and finance’, says her father Rob.
‘It takes time to build up a reputation and get well known and have a good product’, explains Madelaine. ‘It took a couple of years of trial and error, but in the last three years I’ve developed the perfect product. I have had twelve years of trying different things though. And now I’m considered a proper farmer, not a hobby farmer. It’s definitely a full-time job.’
In summer her day starts at five o’clock, and in winter it’s seven. She’s up and out to feed the baby chooks and give them clean water. ‘I do a lot of watching and checking, and making sure that they are all healthy and happy, not stressed or pecked’, says Madelaine. ‘It’s important to observe them and spend time with them.’
Then it’s up to see the mature hens that produce the eggs. They are in portable chook tractors, designed and made by her father, and they are part of a rotational grazing system implemented on the family farm. She moves the chook tractors with her quad bike onto the pastures where the cows, sheep and pigs have been grazing. There are five tractors, and she spends about half an hour with each group.
Then it’s back to the house to pack eggs. One of the most time-consuming aspects of each day involves packing: it takes four hours. However, Madelaine recently ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise $60 000 for a cleaning, grading and packing machine, which will reduce this time to one hour each week. This will not only help reduce Madelaine’s work time, but it also means she can increase her numbers – meeting demand and making her business more viable.
Then it’s back out to do it all again: collect the feed, take it out to the birds, fill the feeders, move the houses, collect eggs and check babies again. On Monday and Thursday she also does deliveries.
‘My inspiration for doing what I do is that I love chickens and I love eggs. I’m really passionate about getting a happy bird, feeding it the best diet and getting a healthy product that: contains vitamins D, A, E and iron; is high in omega 3 fatty acids; and comes in a shell that can store all that for such a long time. It’s the cheapest form of protein on the market.
‘I can also guarantee that they are 100% certified organic and truly free range. A lot of companies claim that their chickens are free range, but they are still allowed 20 000 birds per hectare, and they can give the birds antibiotics and add food colouring to brighten the yolks. I have 250 birds per hectare, and they move to fresh grass every week. They never have an unhygienic environment, they eat certified organic grains, no hormones, no antibiotics and no dyes.
‘I’m making an impact on the world in my own small way. I’m providing organic food to people who care about where their food comes from and how it is grown. I feel it’s my contribution to society’, she says.
‘I think I also inspire others. What I tell other young people is: find something inspiring and follow it. Follow different people who you admire. I think until you’re inspired by something it’s hard to know what to do.
‘I was really inspired by Joel Salatin’s son, my own parents and by friends who are doing similar things. My advice is to get off your arse and find some inspiration.’
Madelaine sells her eggs each month at: Collingwood Children’s Farm Farmers’ Market on the second Saturday; Flemington Farmer’s Market on the first and fourth Saturdays; Lancefield on the fourth Saturday; Woodend on the first Saturday; and Abbotsford Convent on the fourth Saturday.