Posts Tagged ‘free range chickens in Australia’

Now that we have our own chickens, it’s suddenly become more important to me that the chickens we buy for meat have had a reasonable quality of life.  They’re such interesting, intelligent birds, and while our girls haven’t quite made a vegetarian out of me yet, I am now looking more closely at the meat we’re buying.

We haven’t bought a non-free range chook for years, but recently I’d read a couple of articles which suggested that the way some free range chickens are kept is cruel, as they aren’t used to being in large flocks and tend to peck at each other mercilessly.  There have also been stories about free range birds being de-beaked and de-spurred in at attempt to stop them killing each other.

To try and understand this all a bit better, I rang FREPA and made some enquiries.  FREPA stands for Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia – a not-for-profit company which accredits free range poultry farmers in Australia.  Do have a look at their standards – they’re an enlightening read.

Here are some of the things I found out:

1. In Australia, FREPA certified meat chickens are not  mutilated in any way – beak trimming, toe trimming and de-beaking are not permitted.  According to the lady I spoke to, this is because it isn’t necessary – our meat birds have been bred to be non-aggressive, although this isn’t the case in all countries.  Roosters and laying hens are more inclined to peck, but this isn’t an issue with the birds raised in Australia specifically for meat.  The standard for meat birds is available here; the comparable one for egg laying chickens is here.

2. FREPA standards do not allow de-beaking of free-range laying hens. De-beaking involves cutting the top beak to be shorter than the bottom one.  However, beak trimming is permitted I’ve been advised that this involves taking less than 1mm off the beak when the chick is a day old, before its pain receptors have developed.  This process is carried out to stop the birds from cannibalising each other.

I was most surprised when Meg from FREPA had a look at the photos of our chickens and advised me that our birds had been beak trimmed!  She said the trimming done on our hens was the maximum permitted by FREPA.

3. FREPA have in place a regulation which prevents free range egg producers from artificially lighting enclosures for extended hours to force the birds to lay continuously.  According to the standard, artificial lighting is only allowed where the combination of natural and artificial light doesn’t exceed 15 hours per 24 hour period.

4. Contrary to what most people think, organic does not automatically mean free range.  Organic refers only to the food the birds are fed, free range refers to the way they’re raised.  Of course, the reverse is also true, and free range birds aren’t usually fed organic feed, but they do have the option of foraging for some of their food outdoors.  This is a big issue – with organic birds often retailing for nearly $30 each here in Australia, it makes sense to check that the bird is both organic and free range.  And personally, if I had to make a choice, I would always choose free range over organic – our primary concern being the animal’s welfare.

5. Slowly, slowly, the country is undergoing a revolution – Red Rooster, one of our largest fast food chains, is currently trialling free range birds in Western Australia.  If the move is successful, it will be rolled out across the country.  How cool will it be when our takeaway roast chickens are all free range?

6. Free range birds grow at a slightly slower rate than battery chickens, but in a far less stressful environment.  The difference in flavour may be attributed to this lack of stress.

7. In Australia, we are blessed with space, which means we have plenty of room to allow our free range chickens to roam about.  This is a limiting issue in many countries, particularly in parts of Europe.  We are fortunate to live in a country where lamb and beef are also grazed rather than intensively farmed, although that’s often not the case with pork unless it’s specifically marketed as free range.

If you’re an Aussie, and you want to choose a chicken (or eggs) from an accredited FREPA farm, look for the FREPA logo.  It’s a line drawing of a chicken on a silhouette of Australia, and is a guarantee that the bird you’re buying has lived a decent free range life!

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