SUZANNE and Ewart Sylvester are relaxing on their back veranda, overlooking a few large wire enclosures.
The couple are proudly taking in the scenery which they share with hundreds of free-range, organic turkey poults at the Kingsthorpe property near Toowoomba.
A health scare six years ago left Ewan unable to continue working at the same level he was accustomed to and, as he began preparing for retirement, a brief conversation with his naturopath inspired him to pursue organic farming.
“I needed a purpose and, at first, we sort of laughed at the idea but then had a serious look at it,” Ewan said.
“We soon realised we couldn’t compete with the big guys in the industry and had to do things a little differently and we didn’t have a lot of money. Now we run the turkeys in paddocks naturally.”
It’s been four years since their first yield, with GreenAg now processing up to 100 birds per week.
“We lease the processing facilities and we’ve got staff who work to process the meat and we make sure every part of the bird is used – whether it’s in prime cuts and sausages right through to high quality dog food.
“Anything remaining is then sent for use in crab pots along the coast.
“We did 8000 birds last year and I think there’s a huge market here in Australia – we’ve had interest from overseas but we’re not there yet.”
Ewan said the beauty of the free range farm was to see the birds grow in a natural and stress-free environment.
“We’ll go for a walk down there and they’re so friendly. They follow us everywhere, and we hate to see them go, but there’s a line that’s got to be drawn.
“Most farmers today know their animal and there’s a certain amount of attachment and respect for it. They’re only here for a short time so it’s important to give the best life you can to the animal through that period.”
The Sylvesters ensure overstocking their pens is never an issue with each enclosure holding about 600 turkey poults.
“The environmental benefits for us is giving the land time to rejuvenate naturally and the soil where the turkeys are is rotated so there is a spelling period of a minimum six weeks and we keep the density low because it affects their emotional standard if they’re too packed in and we want them to be stress free and healthy.
“If the birds are struggling emotionally or there’s fear in the birds, that’s passed on to you, the consumer.
“We still have a certain amount of challenges to ensure that everything’s right for them when the next lot of birds go into the pens.”
Farming’s future is at the heart of GreenAg and Ewan is passionate about caring for the environment around him.
“There’s a lot of farmers that are organic within their own environment around their house and yard but, once they step outside of that, they want to put chemicals on their crops. We’ve got a situation today – people are looking at what producers are doing and we have products that are made with high-quality ingredients and people say it’s so expensive but you don’t buy the best for nothing.”
Ewan said a little known fact about turkeys was their inability to digest gluten so every care is taken to ensure GreenAg birds were fed only the best quality organic feed.
“We mainly work with mungbeans and sorghum. We buy a lot of feed through Kialla and they’ve been good to us.
“It’s also important to take all the synthetics out of the feed because it doesn’t mesh with the natural system.”
Processing is anywhere from 10 to 20 weeks of age and 4.5-10kg, depending on what the meat will be used for.
“I think the main thing that keeps us motivated is coming into it with no background to farming turkeys and we’ve produced a good product and there are people who will come and find us and pay for it. People are looking for this product.”
For more information visit www.greenag.com.au
- This article first appeared in Queensland Smart Farmer January 2015.