In March this year 76.3 million broilers were slaughtered in the UK, according to Government figures. Broilers are chickens reared for meat, and this eye-watering figure might make you wonder where all these chickens are kept, and how they raised.
According to the British Poultry Council free-range chicken translates into just 3.5% of the poultry market, and organic just 1%, showing that consumers are swayed by cost and a clear sense of confusion about what the term free-range and organic actually means when it comes to poultry.
The required level of welfare standards for chickens in the UK is basic and if you try and find out what constitutes free-range by searching online you might find yourself getting in a bit of a muddle.
Put simply, your average supermarket chicken will have been reared indoors, typically with another 25,000-50,000 chickens and with up to 19 birds per square metre. The light in these intensive chicken sheds is kept low to encourage the birds to move less and eat more, so they need less time to grow. As a general rule of thumb indoor-reared chickens will take between 35-40 days to get to slaughter weight.
Free range chickens, in contrast, must meet higher welfare standards and have to be allowed access to an outdoor range for a minimum of eight hours a day. Slower-growing breeds of chicken are used so they reach slaughter weight at a minimum of 56 days. In addition, free-range chickens should be monitored to prevent fowl sickness and be housed in moving portable units or have a rotating ranging area outside fixed buildings.
Free-range chickens must also have access to outdoor runs for at least 50% of their lives. Organic chickens must be grown for a minimum of 81 days and spend 33% of their lives with access to outdoor runs.
The way we rear our chickens at Farm2Fork follows a system of free-range, pasture-raised and organic methods. The chickens spend the first three weeks of their lives indoors under heat as they develop their feathers and are then moved outdoors where they have 24-hour access to pasture, living in moveable pens which are moved each day to fresh grass which keeps them healthy and clean. In these spacious pens, the chickens live contentedly and safe from predators, while able to express their natural behaviour, with plenty of ground to scratch and peck around in.
We supplement our chickens with organic feed that is GMO and antibiotic-free as these additional nutrients from the grain ensure the birds enjoy optimal health. So what you get from us here are happy, healthy, high welfare chickens.
In stark contrast to those indoor-reared intensively farmed chickens, we can guarantee the birds had a great life. You’ll also notice that our chickens have a yellow tinge to the skin, which comes from the naturally occurring pigments that come from eating pasture.
We believe that good chicken health translates into better human health and better flavour. Why buy a chicken that has been denied access to the outdoors has a limited quality of life if you plan to eat it yourself?
Aim high and go for high welfare pasture-raised, free range chicken.