The most common observation around our broiler chicken operation is “But these are not free range!”. Precisely. We have never called our broiler operation free range. Our laying operation is beyond free range or truly free range if you like, but that is covered in another blog.
PRAISE FOR THE FREE RANGE INDUSTRY
Before discussing what free range is or rather what it is not, the free range chicken industry needs an enormous amount of praise for what they have done. First and foremost on the feed front and then second on the husbandry side. Thanks to them you can buy chicken that has not been fed other dead chickens, antibiotics, coccidiostats and other animals. Secondly their stocking density is 15 birds per square metre down from 23 per square metre for conventional broiler production. Details on our stocking density below.
THE PASTORAL IDEAL
Free range is a brilliant marketing term. Consumers buy into the pastoral ideal. The free range chicken industry is a self regulated industry. (Does this not tell you enough?) The access to the outside for the chicken is through what is called a pophole. Their regulations state that for every 700 chickens you must have a pophole that is 1 meter wide by 45 centimetres high. My question is what are the chances that 1 chicken is going to push past 699 other chickens to get outside when the food, shelter and water is inside?
VARIETY IN THE DIET
Furthermore when that “free range” chicken gets past the 699 others, there might be some kikuyu grass on which to graze. The further you move from the chicken house the more grass there is available as these chickens don’t want to move too far away from their shelter and accordingly eat more closer to their shed. Witness the photo below.
Compare the above photo to a photo of the inside of one of our broiler houses below.
We have 80 birds (just below 7 birds per square metre, which is the organic standard) in our movable houses of 12 square metres. If it was a free range operation it would be 180 per house and if we ran a conventional operation there would be 276 per house.
SPREADING THE GOODNESS OF MANURE
The major problem the “free range” and conventional chicken industry has is that of their waste. When they are not feeding it to cattle they turn it in to supposed compost (a blog about compost will follow soon). What happens on our farm on a daily basis is that as we move our houses an enormous amount of chicken manure is left behind. See the brown stuff in the picture below.
WHAT BECOMES OF OUR “WASTE”?
In our case our waste feeds the microbes in the soil that help the plants grow that in turn feed our cattle, lamb and chickens. The photo below is self explanatory. To the left the chickens have yet to graze and to the right they have grazed. The chicken manure is the reason for the transformation.
PROXIMITY OF OUR ENTIRE OPERATION
The above photo is significant not only because of the effect of the chicken manure, but also because it illustrates the proximity of the various parts of our operation to each other. The building to the right (with the green water tanks that hold the rainwater we capture to feed the chickens with) is where our broilers spend their first three weeks before they head out to the pasture. The building protruding to the left is our abattoir where our chickens are slaughtered every Monday.
CONSCIOUS SLAUGHTERING OF OUR CHICKENS.
The message that you see below is on the wall in the killing room of our abattoir and encapsulates the spirit in which we kill our animals. We slaughter 400 every Monday. In contrast to the chicken that you eat where 25,000 or so are slaughtered every day. Another blog will cover this in more detail.