Life in Thirlmere
Problems with the Australian poultry industry
The poultry industry was in its infancy when the original Estonians began farming. There was very little infrastructure to support the industry-no electricity or town water.
The 'old Estonians' saw the problems and addressed them as they would have in Estonia. Estonia pioneered the Cooperative movement in 1912.
The Estonians started 'Kungla', the Thirlmere farmers Cooperative in 1939 and was continued by the second wave of new settlers after the war. This considerably increased the viability and efficiency of the poultry industry until Thirlmere became the largest producer of eggs in Australia by 1970s.
My father and the Pilts and a man called Sepp got together at our place and started talking about establishing a co-operative. They called it 'Kungla' and it was a very successful business. At one stage there would be 4 or 5 wagons of feed coming in every day from Thirlmere Station with feed for the farmers. In those days feed was sold in bags which had to be moved on your shoulders and stacked 14 -15 bags high.
- Ron Silm 2005
August Pilt and Arnold Kaljusto borrowed money to buy a whole railway truck of wheat. From this start grew the Thirlmere Farmers Cooperative Society which became known as 'Kungla'. Later Estonians used the buying power it gave them to provide building materials, equipment and chicken feed.
- Naomi Pilt 2005
Arnold's command of the English language was better than most Estonian farmers and he played an active part in establishing the Thirlmere Farmers Cooperative Society 'Kungla'. He was elected Secretary at the first meeting in 1938. He was also a member of the committee that established the Estonian Community Centre, Thirlmere Esti Selts 'Koit'. He was one of the trustees that guaranteed the 1000 pound bank loan.
- Leila Kaljusto 2005
Chicken feed was bought from retail stores and was expensive. Feed and day old chicks had to be freighted long distances by rail. Thirlmere did have the advantage of a rail link at this time, although deliveries were unreliable during the war.
The number of eggs in NSW rose dramatically from the 1960s due to genetic improvements to layer birds, improved medication and vaccines for chicken diseases, automatic feeding and watering systems and ready - made chicken feed developed from animal feed companies.
The new technologies reduced the hard physical labour but also increased costs so farmers had to raise more chickens to produce more eggs to maintain their income. Although there were few battery cages installed in Thirlmere, in other areas bigger chicken farms were being built. So massive over surpluses of eggs were produced. Between 1967- 1973 the annual NSW egg production increased by 30% and the number of eggs produced from farms of over 10,000 birds had doubled. The price of eggs dropped and farmers again had to produce more to maintain their income. Some Thirlmere farmers raised income by selling fattened cockerels (capons) which were sometimes chemically caponised using hormone tablets. This practice was challenged by the meat chicken production by large integrated companies such as Ingham's and Steggles using intensive production in large sheds.
In 1962 the Council of Egg Marketing Authorities was set up and imposed an annual levy per hen to cover increased 'marketing' costs. By 1967 the levy had reached $1 per hen which reduced costs to producers by another 6-8 cents per dozen. In Thirlmere the Estonian farmers were in favour of some sort of licensing of control of production and Helmut Juske stood as candidate for the NSW Egg Marketing Board elections as one of five producer representatives on the management board in 1967, 1970 and 1973.
From 1971 producers were limited to the number of eggs they could produce under the Egg Industry Stabilisation Act. Quotas were based on the production figures from the previous year and were eventually able to be brought and sold on the open market. After further problems the Egg industry was deregulated in 1989 and the vast bulk of eggs are now produced by a few very large operators and sold through supermarkets.
These factors were the main causes of the demise of an industry in Thirlmere which Helmut Juske described as 'The largest egg producing district in NSW'.