The soon-to-be Alexander Street former chook enclosure.

The soon-to-be former Alexander Street chook enclosure.

A one-way street in suburban Queenscliff, on Sydney's northern beaches. The traffic island at one end has a dozen star pickets studding its perimeter, swathed in green nylon mesh to a height of 2 metres.

Inside? A chicken coop and four hens named Rosie, Penny, Bessy and Boiler.

The enclosure's door declares them the "Alexander Street chooks", outlines what they can and can't be fed and reminds you to lock the gate. Two fresh eggs sit in a wire basket hanging from the fence.

<i>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</i>

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

An awesome use of space? Of course.

A wonderful alternative to cage-bred eggs? Undoubtedly!

A great way to help people "be closer to nature, animals and their neighbours"? Glad you brought that up.  

And because of complaints to Manly Council, the chickens have to go and the coop may have to be dismantled? Of course.

As a rule, I don't eat eggs because I don't trust producers. Their happy snaps of chooks grazing in green fields rarely jibe with reality. I'll make an exception with my mum's eggs because they come from the most indulged, pampered chickens in the country who graze with kangaroos in her bush-block backyard.

Community chicken coops would thus seem a vastly more humane and renewable option to the methods used to produce most eggs in this country.

Earlier this year the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission brought an action against the Australian Egg Corporation, accusing it of collusion to manipulate egg prices. There was outcry from the public because we suspected we'd been ripped off.

Overlooked was the fact that Aussie egg farmers planned to kill millions of hens prematurely and bury their eggs to boost profits. The casual waste and cruelty is stunning. Brutalise animals their entire life for a product you then throw away. And execute the maker.

The average Aussie probably doesn't realise that's the fate of laying hens. No, they don't end up as drumsticks or nuggets, just buried or burnt.

I approached the Egg Corporation some months ago requesting a visit to a farm to watch how this was done and received solicitous sounds of co-operation. I said I was available to travel, even fly. I'm still waiting for the invitation.

I don't want to demonise all egg producers, but they seem loathe to let observers close enough to offer an alternative to images of skin-and-bone birds corralled in tiny cages atop mountains of excrement.

Earlier this month, Animals Australia released stomach-churning images and video of chickens allegedly taken at a facility in Corowa NSW that supplies eggs to Australia's biggest marketer and distributor of eggs, Pace Farms.

Pace Farms was fined $3000 last year for conditions at the same facility and is owned by Frank Pace, who also sits on the Egg Corporation board. Pace Farms has denied the allegations and questioned whether the pictures and footage were taken in the Corowa facility.

I'd be happy to go have a look, but I'll not hold my breath for the phone call from Frank.

The closer you try to get to our egg industry, the cagier they become. They offer all sorts of guarantees regarding the provenance of eggs, yet I'll guarantee a trip to the battery farm that produced your omelette this morning won't be half as charming and humane as a visit to the Alexander Street chooks.

Once their "illegally installed" enclosure has been dismantled, Manly Council says the locals can attend one of its 'Dream Inspire Grow' programs about how to keep chickens in a "responsible manner" ... an eggs-tension course, I guess.

Twitter: @Samdebrito