Prior to launching Creswick Open Range Farm in 2017, Boyd Carmody worked in civil engineering logistics, moving machinery, digging holes and working on construction sites around the country.

Today he has a vibrant business with about 4000 chooks — a long way from his original backyard enterprise that he had to convert a granny flat into brooder.

Boyd likes to crack a few yolks, sorry jokes, about the industry, but it soon became a serious endeavour as he exited the logistics game.

“I was carting gear all over the country; I might do 15 to 20,000 Ks in a month,” he said.

While he enjoyed seeing the country from his leather-clad, climate controlled lounge room, Boyd liked the idea of being home every night, not facing full weeks of driving before resting his head on his own pillow.

Chooks became the answer.

“We had 20 acres at Gordon to settle in one place while the kids went to school,” Boyd said.

“We always had a few chooks in the backyard for our own egg supply. A friend gave us a rooster and suddenly we had all these chooks running around so we put them on Gumtree and sold them in a couple of hours.

“With the logistics business, I was on the tail end of doing two years of demobilisations, bringing gear home from completed mines and construction sites, and wanted to prepare for retirement. The chooks just snowballed.

“I put in an incubator and they sold pretty well, so I thought I’d do a bit more the next year. I talked to a teacher at the primary school and she bred Heritage poultry and said that with the effort and expense, you should breed something decent.”

Boyd Carmody runs 3500 to 4000 Hy-Line brown hens on the Creswick farm.

Boyd took her advice and the following year all stock sold in a week. Boyd thought he should get serious and installed an industrial-size incubator, built more pens and had 100 breeders and bred 4000 to 5000 birds.

What was going to be a granny flat turned into a brooder room.

However, it turned out he was making more money in the non-breeding season by selling table eggs to keep his breeding flock going, even though he was selling hens for up to $80 a head.

“It was a lot less work and a lot more money just selling eggs,” he said.

“We’d do 40 to 50 dozen a week and run them all over town and the local chefs wanted more.”

Now they produce around 1800 dozen per week.

They tried to get a permit on that property but would have been limited to about 800 hens, well below the 2500 to 3000 minimum required to make a decent living.

The land north of Creswick, itself just north of Ballarat, was a bit of an unloved block, unused and hard to crop with creek lines running through it, rocky patches and an old mine site, but it was good for chook farming.

“I used to cart seed potatoes out of this corridor and thought if I ever got back to Victoria, I knew where I’d get myself a paddock,” Boyd said.

“We still wanted it commutable to the city and it had to be over 100 acres so it was easier to build on, and it doesn’t get too hot or too wet here.”

Creswick Open Range Farm will have options to grow in coming years, but Boyd is determined to maintain a good work-life balance.

It covers 46 hectares, though Creswick Open Range Farm only actively uses a little over half of that.

Boyd now runs 3500 to 4000 Hy-Line brown hens, the most prominent breed in the country.

The enterprise started with about 900 and experienced a brisk growth path.

Numbers and production continue to grow by about 15 to 20 per cent each year.

The stocking rate is about 200 hens per hectare (50 square metres per chook) — about 1/50th of the regulation of 10,000 free range hens per hectare.

They have a new mob coming in every three months, providing regularity of sizes, and the chooks are sold after about 12 months on the farm, mostly to backyard operators, but also to a few commercial egg growers.

With a full-time 19-year-old farm manager responsible for the daily egg collecting, moving hen houses and supplying feed and water, grading and packaging of eggs, the business for Boyd is as much about lifestyle as it is about income, though he has the potential to go bigger in the next few years with the leasing of a neighbouring block.

“We found early on that overstocking devastates the grass and the pastures and you end up with mud, dust and sick birds,” he said.

“You’ve got to keep the density down and we move the houses twice a week so we’re always on clean grass and pasture.”

The paddocks are “native rubbish — a mix of local grasses, onionweed, phalaris and capeweed and bent grass”. Boyd said the chooks “get out there and tear it to pieces”.

They’re rarely in the houses during the day except to lay eggs in the morning, but take themselves in at night.

Six Maremma dogs patrol the fences as part of the farm’s intense security system to keep the chooks safe.

The chook paddock is surrounded by 4.5km of heavy gauge chook wire, 18km of electrified wire, plus six maremma dogs are on patrol and there’s a row of rocks along the bottom of the fence.

The next project is to add misting and sprinkler systems in the hen houses.

Initially the business sold mostly to hospitality, but restaurant closures during COVID-19 meant a shift to retail such as a butcher shops, greengrocers and independent supermarkets across western Victoria and Melbourne.

The delivery logistics are a walk in the park for Boyd, who uses a third-party provider for the long trips and delivers locally to Ballarat and into Melbourne.

Creswick Open Range Farm is totally off-grid and thrives on sustainability.

But there’s no more sleeping in a truck on 40℃ nights or driving back and forward in hot, dusty places.

Boyd said the egg industry had a positive future, providing you do the right thing.

“You’ve got to have quality to match your price,” he said.

“You can’t put average product into the marketplace and expect top price. There are many small egg farms that have fallen over because their product was substandard.”

He said the keys to his success were having plenty of space, working the chooks in lots, keeping them safe and providing quality food and clean water, with chook pellets bought by the truckload.

His operation is all off-grid, with solar panels on the maintenance shed and the hen houses manufactured on site.

He uses his website to promote the ethical and sustainable nature of the business.

“We’ve got nothing to hide from any protesters. It doesn’t get any better than this; they’ve got nothing to go crook about,” Boyd said.