Putting the chicken first

A Sponsored Post for Inglewood Farms

I am really excited to bring you guys a series of posts for Inglewood Farms on organic chicken. To me, this is the perfect fit for a home entertainer, cook and Mum like me who is always trotting out a roast chook for my friends and family. I’m keen to share with you the details of my visit to their farm at Inglewood in QLD, as well as try to help you guys understand a little behind the scenes at a certified organic chicken farm, and try to help you work out just what the differences are between “free range” “organic” “certified organic” and some of the other terms that you see in your supermarket fridge, or local farmers market.

Like most of you, I am the one at the supermarket or if I’m lucky farmers market or market buying the food for our family meals week in, week out. I will admit that my knowledge of poultry up until this point was that if I bought “free range” chicken I felt better about what I was feeding myself and my family, thinking that in some ways the chicken had a better quality of life. Driving along a freeway many a time and seeing those huge semi trailers stacked high with wedged chickens is enough to make anyone turn vegetarian for life. I have up until recently, to my own detriment I think, had my head well and truly stuck in the sand when it comes to the food that I buy. I’ve been someone that occasionally looks to see if something is Australian grown before buying it, always looking for ways to make the dollar stretch wherever possible. I buy my meat from a local butcher or farmer’s market when I can, but it can be expensive, and more often than not, laziness and routine sees me at the supermarket doing a one stop shop. We have recently started to get a delivery of organic fruit and vegetables from a local farmer down where we live and I have been blown away by the quality of the produce and it’s bench life – it might not be the prettiest stuff, and sure, it’s more expensive, but it tastes bloody good and it lasts twice as long as supermarket bought stuff. As a family we eat chicken at least 2 times a week. We roll a roast chook on demand of the 3 year old who has a penchant for gravy, and a stir fry, or Asian style soup will see chicken on our table a few times a week. After watching a Jamie Oliver cooking show I now eat “free range” but haven’t had any understanding or appreciation why I would fork out the extra cash for a certified organic chicken. There are a million different labels on any given chicken – RSPCA approved, Free range, Organic, chemical free – it’s impossible to understand what any of it actually means. Well for a rushed Mum with a whinging kid at her side demanding a chocolate bar that is.

I’m not here to try and tell you one way or another that one brand of chicken is better than any others. I’m not here to make you fall in love with the cute chicks, or get anyone up in arms about animal cruelty, or whether we should or shouldn’t be eating meat. I’m here to tell you about my experience. Share what I have learnt. And hopefully shed some light on what I have found a confusing area up until now. It’s about arming yourself with relevant information and then making choices for you, or your family, depending on what is feasible for you.

Today I wanted to share with you a little about the actual farm in Inglewood that Rob and I visited a few weeks back. Inglewood Farms is owned by the iconic Australian brand RM Williams under the company RM Williams Agricultural Holdings. Inglewood farms is just one property owned by the group. The farm is located near Inglewood in the Southern edge of the Darling Downs in Queensland and they are Australia’s leading producer of organic free range free-range chicken. They are committed to rearing quality chicken adhering to the strict guidelines of organic farming to provide customers with a better tasting bird. A bird that has had a chance to roam and forage free. Over and over again I heard the CEO down to the people working on the farm that it’s very important to them about what’s “best for the bird” and “best for the customer.”

The farm uses a method called the “closed loop” production system where they hatch their own chickens, provide organic feed (some actually grown on the farm) and then recycle wastage into compost. The birds are “processed” on the farm too at the plant – butchered and packed by people before being sent on their way to your local Coles, Wollies, Harris Farm or Thomas Dux market. The birds are raised in forage areas where they can roam in the sunshine, forage in grass, and do what chickens do. Sure, their ultimate end is a commercial one – to feed your family and mine – but the farms ensures that the end result is a superior product, free of chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers or bioengineering. They are birds that were similar to the ones that used to exist: they look and smell like chickens should. They live longer. Their flesh is firmer and leaner. They actually taste like, you know, chicken. Huh.

We arrived at the farm just in time to see the last of the hatching that occurs on the farm every week. The fertilised eggs are kept incubating at the farm in huge temperature controlled containers for the 21 days. They are checked, each by hand and torch in the darkness, to see if they have indeed fertilised which I was blown away by.

When the eggs are ready to be hatched they are taken into the hatching area where they are given a vaccine that all poultry in Australia has to be given legally. They are then transported off to their warm sheds within an hour for food and drink. I had never seen anything like it – 22,000 chicks. All that fluff! All that noise!

We then hightailed it up to see the first sheds where the birds spend their time until they are fully feathered. These birds were only hours old, finding their feed and water for the first time. As each day passes, and they grow, the space is opened up. The organic feed is regulated through the feeders, the straw that is underfoot is grown locally and chopped at the farm.

When the birds are fully feathered, which can take up to 21-28 Days (at 21 days age at a Free Range farm) they are caught by hand and transferred to their shed where they spend the rest of their time. At Inglewood their birds lifespan is 45-60 days compared to 35-40 days and at a Free Range or Chemical Free farm.

I always thought that “free range” meant that the birds would roam free in green pastures nonetheless and have someone in a long, white dress throwing their feed from their apron. OK, not quite, but I had the general impression that there would be green. Somewhere. I was interested to learn that in most cases that “free range” birds are in sheds that have a few holes cut out of the side of them. There might be air and sunshine, but not much ranging going on. The sheds here were opened up on the sides with dedicated forage pasture. We were here in the middle of the day, on a hot early Autumn day, and the birds were quite keen on the coolness inside the shed and not so much the searing QLD sun out there. Who can blame them really? I also learnt that these birds are quite different to laying birds. Layers are foragers, these birds are lazy by nature. The birds can roam around in paddocks alongside the sheds. They can forage. They can roost. They can pick fights with one another. All of which I saw. These were chickens, being chickens.

This shed housed approximately 4,000 birds. A shed of the same size as this, on a conventional free range farm would house 8,000 birds. And bigger sheds than this one, on conventional free range farms will house up to 40,000 birds with a few holes in the sides. That’s the difference. These birds were fed organic feed, some grown locally. There are no pesticides. No fertilizers. No hormones. Just air. Feed. Water. Sunshine. Earth to roam and forage.

All of that, in my mind, has to make for a superior product doesn’t it? An animal that isn’t stressed. Isn’t pumped with artificial anything. Left to do it’s thing. Most people I’m sure are happy to think of chicken as 2 clean cut breasts in a package from the supermarket with very little thought to the actual animal in the equation. Let alone the process behind it. I know I’ve been guilty of that. But I want my kids to know that the animal they are eating is indeed an animal, farmed for meat. That they are grown, able to walk around and do what they should before they are killed. It was a real privilege to watch and see the birds that we have eaten at our own dining table. To know, really know, that the product that claims certain things in it’s packaging actually delivers.

In the next post I will let you in on the processing of the birds, and try to decode some of the labels that we are bombarded with and talk about the real cost of the organic process, and what this means for us at the check out. 

There are more details here on the Inglewood website for anyone that’s interested in the difference in farming techniques between Chemical Free, Free Range and Inglewood Farms. I found this really interesting.

And here is a short film that Rob made which tells you a little more about Inglewood Farms. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Excellent BabyMac. I have always bought organic chicken for all of the above reasons. And, yes, it was the trucks of caged chickens on the highway that did it for me. I know organic is more expensive but it is easy to supplement the weekly food menus with inexpensive bean dishes – canneloni, red kidney etc. which are also very healthy. Hope in the future you can do a sponsored post about free-range eggs. It seems over half the eggs sold in the UK are free-range but in Australia it is only about one-third. And there are so many different standards in the free-range egg industry. Beth, if only one family buy organic chicken after reading these articles – that is one family who will be more healthy.

    • Thanks Rosie. It was a real privilege being able to get some inside perspective on this…I hope it helps people start to understand a little more about the process and where the cost comes from. We are starting to change the way we eat as a family now…less meat, smaller sizes, making the meat we do buy last for longer. It’s pretty simple stuff – certainly things that our grandparents did, but something that seems to have been lost in the drive for cheaper products at the supermarket. Glad you liked the post!

  2. Good job Beth. Nice and fair and loved the video. Great education for us all. For those lucky enough to be close to farmers markets, a push for the small farmers which I must declare I am one in the interests of disclosure. It’s tough competing against the big guys. You might like to check out Fiona’s farm at http://www.innerpickle.com.au

    • Thanks Alison – definitely need to support those small farmers too. It’s VERY tough for them to compete, no doubts about it. Hats off to them all!

  3. Anonymous says

    Great stuff, Beth! I have long bought free range as it was the best I could get in our small town. In past weeks I have been excited to see the Inglewood range of chicken arrive in town, and indeed the proof is in the eating; SUCH a big difference!! There is no going back for our family now. We have a bunch of feathered girls in our backyard, and it’s comforting to know that the birds on our table have a longer, better life than their more unfortunate counterparts. As for the health benefits for the family…I’m convinced that organic is the way to go! The flavours of the chooks of yesteryear shone through! Thanks for this great, informative post, & for the video, Rob! Sarah

    • That was the thing I thought of…it reminded me of the roast chicken we used to have many, many years ago. We are going to be getting chickens in the backyard soon too…another great education for the kids. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. Anonymous says

    Regardless of whether you have been paid for this article or not, I think its great that the information is out there and delivered to people who would not usually go looking for it.
    However, it does not sit well with your previous paid propaganda writings for woolworths, and your statement about supporting the small farmers (who are being crushed by Woolworths), shows a large measure of hypocrisy. Im afraid that as you develop your profile as a public personality you are going to have to think a little deeper about some things and make some difficult decisions about where you are going to lead your followers, who alarmingly seem to think that every word that drops from your lips is the golden truth. If you, with your flaunted privilege, justify shopping at and working for woolworths with the need to scrape by, then what chance is there,for so many others who have much less, of finding other alternatives to eating and shopping sustainably and ethically, and keeping the insatiable greed of giant corporations like woolworths at bay. Good on you for shining the light on ethical farming practises, and I hope that your relationship with Woolworths is over, not because I care where you shop, but because you now have influence, God help us.

    • Thank you for your comment – a lot of food for thought.

      I try to support small local farmers where and when I can, but like many out there, I find myself in the big supermarkets for convenience – a modern necessary evil. Shining a light on the brands within these chains that are doing their best was the aim with this post. The supermarket chain/small farmer discussion is a much bigger one, and one that I know many people feel passionate about.

      Couldn’t agree with you more about me having influence…HEAVEN HELP US ALL indeed!

    • Did your parents call you Anonymous? Or did you change it when you grew up via deed poll.

    • Mrs W, I don’t have a problem with people leaving anon comments if they are constructive, which this is.

  5. I enjoyed reading your post today Beth. A great insight into the world of chickens. 🙂 Like you, sometimes just one stop at Coles is a convenient option, but I think I’ll be having a look at the local butchers selection from now on.

    V x

  6. Thanks Beth…great post…and I am looking forward to the rest of the series.
    I try to feed my family as much food that is actually real, whole food as possible…and avoid as many unnatural processes and chemicals as possible.
    But it is difficult…and expensive!
    I find that smaller shops and markets are wonderful for sourcing options…and the people who work there are generally fantastic and know so much about their products!

    • Thanks Caitlin, I’m glad you liked it. I agree with everything you say…and I know what an effort you make. It’s harder, and I am most definitely still learning!

  7. I would have scooped up and handful, put them in my handbag and run for the hills. Then again, I had a chicken sandwich for lunch…. x

  8. Thanks Beth…this post contained so much important information that few of us knows about. Unfortunately, as is the case with baby lambs/sheep, you see the chicks and wonder if you should chicken. Actually we seldom eat lamb but mainly ‘cos it’s rather fatty. I think all we meat eaters probably have the same problem of conscience from time to time but I definitely could not do without my protein which comes in the form of meat.
    I look forward to further information re brands etc., and once again, thank you for this post. x

  9. what do they do with the boy chicks at Inglewood?

  10. That was a really interesting read, Beth. I thought green, crisp aprons and singing as well, so this was a real eye opener!! I think mass production, organic or not, is at is heart a little unjust somehow. We might pay less, but the animals we eat sure don’t!! x

    • Indeed. There’s a bit of a disconnect between thinking about the actual animal and the packet of meat on the shelf isn’t there? And who knew? NO APRONS.

  11. I always figure that if a farmer is happy for me to come and see the animals then they are a good bet. Happy meat just tastes better too. C:

  12. Such a great post. Thanks Beth. I’ve been changing the way our family has been eating lately too. Much like you, less meat, but better quality. I am trying to do the ethically farmed path, but am finding my options very slim in the town, and it’s surrounding larger town where I live. I am yet to find Inglewood on the shelves. This has brought much awareness to the labels. So many food companies, not just meat practices, have become so clever, or rather, cheeky in pulling the wool over consumers eyes, that I’m finding I really do have to look into all the labels to find out what we are really eating.

    • It’s definitely harder to find the good stuff…but once you work out where to get it, and what it IS you are eating, it’s a great thing. I can’t believe I have had my head in the sand for so long about this stuff.. very naughty of me!

  13. This was an interesting read, Beth. I’m vegetarian, but still buy meat for my family. There is a really good documentary called Food Inc. it’s not a ‘convert to vegetarianism’ dodo, but very mind opening about where food comes from (including fruit, veg and grains). It’s mainly focused on America, but still relevant here.

  14. I really loved this post Beth. I actually showed my daughter the video Rob made to show her how chickens lived on farms before we buy them at the shops. Seeing Jamie Oliver’s show about how chickens were farmed made me get informed about our family’s choices. Farmer’s markets, larger chain supermarkets – there are options within each one. Getting informed is always beneficial regardless of where you shop

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