Poultry in motion: the chicken farmer keen on education

Published: March 2019 | By: Joanna Webber

NSW Farmers Poultry Meat committee chair Justin Roach is passionate about educating city kids about food, fibre and how chicken gets to their plate.

Justin Roach, chair of NSW Farmers’ Contract Poultry Meat Committee. Source: Supplied.

JUSTIN Roach has felt a strong connection to the land since he was a young fella. Originally from Collarenebri, he grew up visiting and working on his family’s farms in the NSW North West region and the Southern Highlands.

“I went to Hawkesbury Agricultural College after finishing school in Sydney. It seemed to be a natural progression for me to achieve my dream of working in agriculture and, ultimately, one day owning my own farm,” says Justin, who today runs his own chicken meat farm near Tamworth, where he lives with his wife Bec and their three children, Phoebe, 14, Lachlan, 12, and Amity, 10. 

Across five commercial broiler sheds, Justin grows almost 1.5 million meat chickens a year under contract to Baiada Poultry, which owns the Lilydale Free Range and Steggles brands. 

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Young broiler chickens. Source: Getty Images.

“I love the challenges we continuously face as farmers to find new and innovative ways to increase the efficiencies of our broiler farm,” says Justin, who took over as chair of NSW Farmers’ Contract Poultry Meat Committee last year after being elected deputy chair in 2012. 

“The poultry meat industry has grown so quickly in my 20-plus years in the game. The consumption of chicken in Australia during that time has nearly doubled, increasing from nearly 26kg per person in 1996 to around 50kg per person in 2017.” 

The fast-paced growth of the chicken meat industry has meant not only more shedding to keep up with domestic demand, but improved genetics, better nutrition and improvements in veterinary care, housing and husbandry practices, he says. Despite the improvements, Justin says urban myths persist. 

“Some 80% of Australians still believe hormones are fed to chickens to make them grow faster, and 72% believe meat chickens are reared in cages.”

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In fact, meat chickens are not reared in cages – and no meat chickens produced in Australia contain added hormones, he says. “It’s illegal in Australia.”

Free range chickens soaking up the sunshine at Canobolas Eggs, where the Peffer family produce eggs. Photo by: Pip Farquharson.

The committee’s main role is to keep communications open between growing regions across the country. “We communicate and participate with national poultry advocacy agencies to work on issues faced by the industry and our members.”

Reconnecting rural, regional and remote communities with their city cousins is something that’s close to Justin’s heart. Recently he was awarded a scholarship by the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation to participate in a rural leadership program. 

“I would love to see an education system that teaches our kids where their food and fibre comes from, how it’s grown, processed and ultimately delivered to them,” he says. “The technologies available to kids at school today should allow our cohort to set up a platform where city schools can partner up with country schools, allowing the kids to swap stories and ask questions.” 

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