Before we started farming Pasture Raised Chicken, we thought ‘Free range’ was the gold standard for producing happy and healthy chicken. We thought that chickens raised in free range systems guaranteed that the chickens had spent their lives roaming freely outside, foraging in fresh grass and generally living a life that followed their natural rhythm – eating what they wanted, having plenty of space to move around and sleeping when they wanted to. We were shocked to discover that this is simply not the case.
What free range really means…
Commercial free range systems comprise of 1000’s of chickens kept in single flocks and housed all together in sheds. These sheds are equipped with openings that allow the birds access to outside. However, like humans, chickens prefer to stay near their food, water and warmth so there is very little incentive to venture outside. If they do venture out, it will be to the same area each day, where there will be very little grass, if any at all, and certainly no bugs or worms. Being kept in such large numbers stresses the birds throughout their life and may lead to pathogen build up and disease. The suggested stocking density in free range systems is 15 birds per square metre (this seems like a lot of birds in a small space to us!). To speed up the chickens growth rate, shed lights are often left on for much longer than daylight hours, forcing the chickens to stay awake, eat and grow.
And what about ‘no routine hormones & antibiotics’?
The common claim seen on many free range product labels is that the chicken did not receive ‘routine hormones or antibiotics’. It is important to understand that hormone use in the poultry industry is not legal in South Africa, no matter what – so no chicken, however it is raised, can be given hormones. ‘No routine antibiotics’ means that the chicken was not medicated on a daily basis to prevent disease or promote growth (it is actually the antibiotics that act as growth promoters in chickens), but this doesn’t mean that the chicken was never administered antibiotics, if a disease outbreak was suspected or actually occurred. It also doesn’t mean that the feed was completely free of all medication. All of the commercially available free range feed that we have come across contains a coccidiostat. This is an antimicrobial (medication) to treat or prevent parasites and the chickens are eating it every day.
GMO-free feed delivery
So why Pasture Raised… ??
We began farming pasture raised chicken and eggs after reading Joel Salatin’s book on pastured poultry – realizing this was a much healthier way to farm and produce food. It is healthier for the chickens, healthier for us and our children, and healthier for our farm’s soil.
Chickens that have been raised out on pasture spend their days and nights out in the fresh air. They experience all weather conditions – sun, wind, and rain- and get to eat fresh grass, as well as scratch in the earth, eating live bugs and worms. Our pasture houses only have 9 birds per square meter and are moved to a pristine patch of pasture every single day. It is incredible to see the amount of grass they eat and it is the grass that adds greatly to the nutrient profile and flavour of the meat and eggs. These daily moves to fresh pasture also prevent manure and pathogen build up, ensuring the chickens’ own immune systems are not overloaded. As a result, we have no need for the use of any medication ever and our custom mixed feed is completely free of ALL medication.
What’s so bad about GMO?
As well as our feed being completely free of all medication, all the raw ingredients are non-GMO. Across the globe most corn and soy crops have been genetically modified so as to withstand being sprayed by the herbicide, Roundup. Roundup contains the active ingredient Glyphosate and other toxic chemicals (known as POEA’s), to kill weeds without killing the crop itself.
However, these chemicals don’t just stay on the crop and field where they were sprayed, they find their way into our waterways, our soils, and our bodies. Studies in the US have found Gyphosate residue in about 90% of foods, including honey and breast milk. As more and more Roundup is used around the world, we are now seeing the development of Glyphosate and other herbicide-resistant weeds – known as super weeds.
Glyphosate is believed to interfere with biochemical reactions in the body and was declared as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ by the WHO in 2015. More recently the other chemical’s (POEA’s) included in Roundups ingredient list are raising just as much concern in terms of their carcinogenic profile.
We have not used any herbicide, insecticide, pesticide or synthetic fertiliser on our farm for over 5 years, and, as a result, we are seeing the health of our pasture, our soil, our flora and fauna, and the general health of our farm, flourish!
Josh feeding the chickens their feed
Is there really any other choice… ?
We don’t think so! Knowing that we are feeding our children chicken and eggs that are free of all medication and herbicide residue makes the extra effort and cost it takes to produce pasture raised chicken and eggs totally worth it.
Investing in farming methods and lifestyle choices that truly nourish their little growing bodies is a daily joy to Josh and I, and it is a joy we hope to share with you.