A Day In The Life: Pasture Poultry
Pasture Poultry is a small business based on the outskirts of a Scottish town called Biggar and is run by Katie Phillips. She has a a simple clear vision in mind and that is to rear and produce exeptional high quality free range chickens without compromising animal welfare, in fact the welfare of her chickens is paramount and in order to main such high standards she adheres to low stock density volumes. I have been a fan of Pasture Poultry for a while now and I can confirm her chickens taste incredible but I wanted to understand more about her business and to see, up close and personal, just how ''Free Range'' her chickens are. Before I go any further, I would like to address the term ''FREE RANGE'' and how commercial chicken producers are allowed to class their produce as Free Range.
WHAT DOES FREE RANGE MEAN?
In the world of commercial chicken production, the word FREE RANGE is misused, misleading and if I am being honest, it is a bit of a lie. DEFRA clearly state that in order for a commercial chicken to be free range, the minimum space required per chicken is 1 square foot and must have access to the outdoors, now that might seem great but in reality it isn't. Imagine being stuck in a lift shoulder to shoulder with 3 other people for 4-5 weeks and the only way to escape the lift is via the small access hatch, doesn't sound great but take into account everyone wants to get out at the same time....it is just not possible. Not only that but commercial chickens only live until are 4-6 weeks old before they are ready to be sold as food. That is 4-6 weeks of doing nothing but eating alot of food, that is purely developed to produce meat and nothing else. The bone structure and density of the bird isn't great and why would it be, it is essentially an obese baby that is sold as a cheap source of protein to the mass market but it doesn't need to be like this and there are alternate options. Now in this day and age, the human population is doing a great job at obliterating the planet, we want food now and we want it cheap but if you look back as recent as the 1970's, chicken production was done on a smaller scale and to an extent it was done as traditionally as possible, which is where Pasture Poultry comes into play.
As I drove to Biggar, I was filled with anticipation and excited to see the set up she had but more importantly, I was desperate to see some chickens. Having kept chickens myself for the purpose of fresh eggs, there is nothing better than watching them scratch freely in the soil, foraging for insects and rolling in dust baths. Katie welcomed my daughter and I at her farm and took us straight to where she was rearing the poults (baby chickens).
Katie explained that she rears the Ross Cobb Chicken, which is a commercial chicken used in meat production but is slowly moving over to rear the Hubbard and Sasso variety of chicken. The reason for the change in breed is because she wants to keep her produce and methods as traditional as possible and throughout the course of the day it became apparent that Katie's passion and love for her animals stems back to the old days and how chickens used to be raised. She buys the chickens in small quantities from the supplier when the poults are 1 day old and she keeps them inside until they are 4 weeks old, where they are transferred to an open meadow that houses a spacious barn. All of her animals are fed a natural non medicated diet where the birds are free to roam and feed off the surrounding grasses, plants and bushes. Normally at this stage in a commercial chickens life, they would be sent to slaughter but this isn't the case at Pasture Poultry.
Katie explained that because animal welfare is paramount, she rears her chickens oudoors until they are 12-14 weeks old, allowing the chickens to mature and develop excellent bone structure. If the chicken has excellent bone structure then it helps carry the weight of the weight of the meat as it grows and becomes a young adult. As the chicken matures, the meat becomes darker, denser and richer in flavour, which is the complete opposite of the chicken you buy from the supermarket and being a massive foodie, flavour is KING. Katie explained that when it comes to her chicken production, she keeps low stock volumes to ensure that animals have enough ground to roam freely. This is great to see because she isnt willing to compromise animal welfare to make a quick buck which is something she could do if she wanted to rear more chickens at any one time and is something I respect and in doing so, she can control the supply and demand for her produce, making it even more special.
Moving on from the meadow, we visited the area where the birds are prepared for the consumer. Everything is done on site and every step of the process is carried out by Katie and, on occassion, help from her partner or a friend. From the plucking, butchering, packaging and delivering, Katie does it all and uses a local courier to deliver the goods further a field. Her customer base is primarily the Lothians and her produce is stocked in a handful of shops, butchers on the outskirts of Edinburgh and nearby villages where she lives. I have to say, I am very impressed at the volume of work she does in such a small scale. Everything she has created has been done with passion and integrity, that really shows in her produce and having seen it up close, I am proud to support and promote what she does at Pasture Poultry. The image below simply shows the difference in size between a free range pasture raised chicken thigh compared to that of a commercial chicken. Bear in mind there is a difference in age of around 8-10 weeks between the two but let that sink in for a bit. Not only is the size different but the thigh on the left is packed with rich dark meat that is full of flavour whereas the commercial chicken thigh on the right is bland.
(Pasture Poultry Thigh (left) compared to a Commercial Chicken Thigh (right))
SO WHAT NEXT?
This in itself is a really tricky question to answer and there is no right or wrong answer to give. Commercial Chicken Farming isnt going anywhere soon and for those who want a cost effective product then that is the market for you and me but I will say this...If (and this is a big IF) we want to better our planet whilst eating meat with integrity where animal welfare is paramount and they can live a truly free range life, then we should be eating better but eating less of it. In the old days, a roast chicken would be regarded as a treat for a family dinner but nowadays chicken is available to buy en mass and if we are buying alot of it we are also producing more waste (which is never good). So whilst I am not saying, stop buying commercial chicken, I am suggesting alternatives that is better for you and better for the environment.
As I said, Katies chickens are pasture raised, pasture fed and are free from chemicals and medicines. Her produce isn't gas flushed or preservered to extend shelf life, it is a high quality perishable item that can easily feed a family of four for a couple of meals. Pasture raised produce will always be more expensive than commercial produce but what your money supports is the vision of one woman, who literally does it all, and supports the welfare of the chickens she rears. If we are to eat better but eat less then the cost of the produce does eventually balance out and it is save to say that an oven ready bird weighing between 2.5 kg and 3 kg goes beyond your standard sunday roast and can be used for a variet of meals, not forgetting the leftover carcass can be used to make an incredible chicken stock for soups, which in turn reduces potential waste.
So there you have it, a wee insight into my day at Pasture Poultry where my eyes were opened regarding commercial chicken farming and how responsible chicken farming can be achieved with a little bit of TLC and a whole lot of integrity. I love her produce and I truly belief eating pasture raised chickens will get you thinking just how great chicken meat can be, it really is world's apart from what I know chicken to taste like and that's a great thing.
Thanks for reading.