It is a well known fact that Britain loves chicken. From supermarket shelves to high street chains that sell it by the bucket load, chicken is everywhere and our appetite for it is only increasing. With this rise in demand, the question on organic chickens vs free range is one we want 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, we recognise that ‘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 ours apart from the free range label.

BREEDS SUITED TO ORGANIC

Our breeds of chickens 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, and after laying one egg per day are free to do as they wish. With a multitude of chicken sheds laid out across our farm, our organic chickens are free to go outside on their own accord, living as wildly as possible and sometimes venturing into different fields and pathways on our farm.

Giving our chickens space

Not only does each of our chicken sheds house only 500 chickens – each chicken having 1 square metre inside the shed and 10 square metres outside the shed – the lush pastures they roam are lush and unspoilt, full of worms, fruits and grubs that they love to eat. To put this into perspective, large-scale commercial farms can typically raise 27,000 chickens per shed.

NO NEED TO RUSH

To feed a growing demand, it can be difficult to prioritise animal welfare and quality farming methods. In this context, chickens are often viewed as a commodity rather than living animals, and the time scale within which the chickens are reared is much shorter than our chickens – for instance, a barn-reared bird grows to its ideal weight in 40 days and will then be sent to market. With its ability to gain weight quickly – around 50g per day – this time span works to meet demand. At Daylesford, our organic chickens reach their peak in 80 days, growing slowly and naturally.

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. Luckily, the good health and lifestyle of our chickens eliminates this need.

WHY ORGANIC WORKS: HEALTH INDICATORS

When looking at our organic chickens, you can look out for several indicators of their good health: a bright red comb, bright eyes, a clean bottom and no insects or grubs under their wings. Plus, we get one superb quality egg per day. Another indicator of the health and happiness of a chicken is the yolk of their eggs. Ours have a deep yellow or orange colour, a key indicator of the richness of the yolk which is full of vitamins and nutrients.

Organics eggs provide twice the amount of essential omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic eggs. You may have come across eggs before that are a pale yellow; this is a clue as to how the chicken has been reared. Pale yellow means a lack of nutrients – whether less time spent in daylight (ideally, chickens need 15 hours of daylight), poor health whilst being reared or a poor diet. The next time you crack an egg open, take a look and see for yourself.

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 on their own accord and having adequate space are just a few of the key pillars of our chicken rearing practices and something we would never compromise on for profit. The next time you visit one of our farmshops, try our organic eggs or chicken for yourself. We’d love to know if you can taste the difference – we certainly can.