If you ask a poultry producer around Tamworth, “what came first, the chicken or the egg?’” chances are the answer tonight at the Kootingal Bowling Club would overwhelmingly be: The Egg.
A reunion of poultry people in the heart of what was once the egg capital of Australia – will bring back together some of the most famous of the families who created the history that is at the heart of the industry.
The reunion from 2pm today is an idea hatched by a few blokes with connections to the industry – they’re calling on anyone with a link to the days of the egg growing families to attend.
The industry was huge at its peak – serviced by another 1000 people who derived their income through feed, carrying, packing, equipment making, growing pullets or hatching chicks. The reunion will relive some fairly strong and significant district social and economic times that not only provided a colourful history but a heritage steeped in industry strength.
The egg industry virtually began with three pioneers way back in about 1921 after the first commercial flock was established by Richard Barber. Plenty of others followed, and according to former poultry officer with the department, Phil Chaseling, and one time egg producer Brian Betts, every second house in the Moonbi Kootingal valley raised chooks after World War 11 when there was a shortage and the government encouraged people to get into production.
According to Mr Betts, one of tonight’s reunion organisers, there were up to 1000 egg producers, some of them producing only half a carton a week for sale.
The granite soils of the area had contributed to the good-egg reputation – well drained and sandy, worm eggs would die as the eggs hit the hot sandy soils and when it rained there was little mud for the eggs to drop into.
It’s come a long way, but today’s egg industry here is nothing like it used to be.
Forty years ago, there were quotas, there was regulation, Tamworth produced one in three of every egg NSW hatched and we were the second biggest poultry producing district.
We had an egg marketing corporation grading floor – the old West Tamworth egg board building in Barnes St – that handled between 10,000 and 11,000, 30-dozen cases of eggs a week.
In 1973 there were 138 men and women employed there, but numbers over those years were as high as 150.
In 1985 it was reported that the area had some 1.2million birds laying eggs – by comparison only 461,000 birds were for poultry meat.
The gross value of our eggs was said to be over $26million while meat poultry birds contributed
But the egg was ultimately doomed and there’s plenty who will still tell you today that once deregulation was finally introduced by the Greiner Government in 1990, after a few years of threats, rebel Sydney growers flooding the market and flouting quotas, and upheaval with low prices, things began to change.
Just before deregulation sorted the survivors outs, there were about 55 licensed farmers, holding 850,000 birds, down from 76 a few years before and producing then about 20 per cent of the state total.
Today, there’s only about three or four egg producers left, with plenty of big flocks, but more lease their land to the big commercial producers too.
Today, the poultry meat industry around this region generates more than $107million in total economic activity and there’s been over $150million invested in capital assets, over the past few years, particularly since the 80s when the meat industry bulked up big.
So, while the egg came first when it came to the Tamworth history – the chicken rules the roost these days.