Organic chickens vs free range: spotlight on our poultry & eggs
From supermarket shelves to high street chains that sell it by the bucket, chicken is everywhere and Britain’s appetite for it continues to increase.
The question on organic vs free range chicken is an important one to address.
Britain’s poultry sector grew by 27% between 2011 and 2017 and, as a result of this increasing demand, the number of intensive ‘mega farms’ is growing every year. With many chickens and eggs labelled as free range, ‘free range’ does not always mean the freedom you would expect; big production targets can lead to a slip in standards which may not be immediately obvious to consumers. Here, we give an insight into our organic chickens and what sets them apart from the free range label.
BREEDS SUITED TO ORGANIC
Our chicken breeds are chosen for their ability to perform in a purely organic environment.
Take our Blue Legbar hens; unlike battery hens, they are naturally inquisitive, small and enjoy lots of movement and freedom. They lay one egg per day and are free to do as they wish. With a multitude of chicken sheds laid out across our farm, our organic chickens may go outside on their own accord, living as wildly as possible and exploring different fields and pathways.
Giving our chickens space
Each of our chicken sheds houses only 500 chickens, with each chicken having 1 square metre inside the shed and 10 square metres outside the shed. To put this into perspective, large-scale commercial farms can typically raise 27,000 chickens per shed.
Outside, the lush pastures they roam are lush and unspoilt, full of worms, fruits and grubs they love to eat.
NO NEED TO RUSH
In intensive battery farms, chickens are often viewed as a commodity rather than living animals. Barn-reared birds are under pressure to gain weight quickly – around 50g per day – and live to a rushed timescale to meet demand, reaching their full grown weight in just 40 days before it is sent to market.
At Daylesford, our organic chickens grow slowly and naturally, reaching their peak in 80 days. The extra time allows us to prioritise animal welfare and quality farming methods.
Does free range really mean free RANGE?
In the case of free range, the birds are free to range in the sense that they are not confined to a barn and do have the option to roam outside. However, with many thousands of birds in one shed, the chances of making it outside are slim for many. We still see these overcrowded ‘free range’ barns as intensive rearing, even if there is access to the outdoors.
As they are bred to put on weight rapidly, intensively and free range-reared chickens struggle to support their own body mass as they grow, so spend most of their day sitting on their own droppings. High in ammonia, these droppings can be damaging and many suffer from hock burns. They also tend not to develop strong immune systems, so disease can spread quickly, and to counteract it, antibiotics are routinely mixed with their feed or water.
At Daylesford, the lifestyle of our chickens ensures good health and eliminates the need for routine medication.
WHY ORGANIC WORKS: HEALTH INDICATORS
A vibrant red comb, bright eyes, a clean bottom and no insects or grubs under their wings are all indicators of good health in our organic chickens. Plus, we get one superb quality egg per day.
The yolk of the eggs is another sign of the health and happiness of a chicken. Ours are full of vitamins and nutrients (organic eggs provide more essential omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic eggs) and have a deep yellow or orange colour.
Pale yellow egg yolks are a clue as to how the chicken has been reared: less access to daylight (ideally, chickens need 15 hours of daylight), poor health or a diet lacking in nutrients.
The best for our chickens and our planet
From the minute they are born to the end of their lives, our organic chickens are given attention, great living conditions and a purely organic lifestyle. We are proud to take care of the whole process and ensure that the welfare of the animals is put first. Living organically, being free to range and having adequate space are the key pillars of our chicken rearing practices and something we would never compromise on.