How We Rear Our Properly Free Range Chicken
"Nothing has had a stronger influence on the development of Pipers Farm than the way that we were producing chickens with my father in Kent 30 years ago, for one of the well-known high street food chains. We were growing food that we were not prepared to feed to our young children. As farmers, we were determined to do something about it." Peter Greig, Founder of Pipers Farm.
There is a world of difference between that industrial system of growing table birds in Kent and the Pipers Farm properly free range chickens of today. Here we explain how we rear our award-winning Properly Free Range Chicken.
After hatching, our chicks grow indoors for their first 3 to 4 weeks until they have feathered up and are ready for a life outside. During this time our chicks are tucked up in cosy barns with warm air and fresh chippings below their feet. This allows our chicks to brood and feather up ready for a life outside roaming freely amongst pasture.
We rear three different strains of a slow growing breed called 'Hubbard'. The Hubbard breed is designed to grow slowly, roam freely, and lay down fat from eating pasture. You may notice some slight variations in the colour of our birds, this is due to the genetics of these slightly different breeds and their 'colour gene', this makes no difference to the texture or flavour of our birds. It is the life and the diet of our properly free range chickens that creates the flavour we are famous for.
Properly Free Range
Our free range chickens are slow-grown in small groups, free to roam outside on healthy hillside pastures in natural light, and with the freedom to display their natural instincts such as scratching for food and dust bathing. These contented birds have properly developed bones and muscles and a strong natural immunity from scratching and pecking in the soil.
All our free range chickens are raised amongst lush pasture, which not only provides our birds with a wonderful healthy environment to explore, the pasture also makes up a proportion of our chicken's diet.
Our properly free range chickens live in houses that are movable and rotated around the farm. This allows the pasture to grow healthily, giving the grasses an opportunity to rest and rebuild once the chickens houses have been moved onto a fresh piece of grass. The rotating of our chicken houses is important not just for the health of our birds, but also for the health of the farm, allowing the chicken manure to be spread evenly through the fields, giving the roots the ability to grow deep, and also removing the opportunity for any disease burden to build up in the soil.
Our free range chicken's diet is made up of straightforward cereals (corn, barley and wheat) and grass, with the emphasis on developing a healthy digestive system. Chickens are monogastric animals, which means they can’t survive on pasture alone – their stomach systems are not sophisticated enough to extract the energy and protein they need. This means nutrient-packed grains and proteins are a crucial part of their diet. We do not use any additives or chemicals in our feed. We want our chickens to grow slowly, healthily and lead a properly free range life.
Soya is present in the feed for our chickens. We use the minimum amount possible (less than 5% of their feed) to ensure the welfare of our chickens, this protein is crucial for our birds to thrive while living a properly free range life.
Traditionally, fishmeal from local ports and harbours would have been fed to chickens instead of soya, however this was outlawed in the 1996 following the outbreak of BSE. Fishmeal, as a by-product of the local, inshore fishing fleet is a totally sustainable source of 'high quality, protected protein'. With the ban in place, it has meant that our local feed mills have had no option but to use soya.
We are hopeful that the ban on the use of fishmeal by-products will be lifted. In the meantime we are actively looking at alternatives such as lupins. It is stimulating the challenge to combine the resourcefulness and skills of our local feed millers with our family farmers working these crops into traditional crop rotations.
We will continue to actively seek alternatives to soya and remain hopeful for changes in regulations that will allow us to feed our chickens a completely sustainable diet.
We grow our chickens slowly to 12 or 13 weeks old, at least double the length of intensively reared birds, and longer still than many free-range and organic chickens you will find on a supermarket shelf. We want our birds to live a proper life, scratching and dust-bathing, foraging and flapping. This active life not only is vitally important from our ethical viewpoint, but also ensures our birds develop a proper carcass and muscles which results in healthy, nutritious food.
Our chickens are killed individually in farmyard based slaughterhouses, on most of our farms by the same team that has reared the birds. The humane slaughter of our birds is vitally important to us, we put a great deal of love and care into producing a healthy, happy bird, the last thing we would want is for our birds to have a stressful end to their lives. Every chicken is carefully stunned prior to slaughter. Our chickens are slaughtered on the farm where they are reared, ensuring that they do not become stressed from travel.
Pipers Farm Properly Free Range Chickens are healthy, nutritious food, grown without the need for any routine use of antibiotics, and not exposed to the significant problems of food poisoning bacteria associated with industrial-scale systems of farming and processing.
We work with three incredible family farms who rear our properly free range chicken. Our talented, likeminded farmers work to our standards to ensure every chicken reared is of exceptional quality and has been produced in a way you can have complete confidence in. We work closely with our farmers to ensure we are treading as lightly as possible on the land and producing delicious nutritious food for your table.
We believe in better farming, with a 360° respect for the environment, farmer, animals and you, the customer. Chickens mean a lot to us too, as it was after seeing the introduction of industrial poultry systems that prompted Pipers Farm founds Peter and Henri to start farming sustainably over 30 years ago. They were determined to produce good, healthy, wholesome food that they could feed to their family with confidence. We hope that by sharing the story of how our chickens are reared today you can see that those principles have only got stronger. By choosing Pipers Farm you are supporting family farms who are nurturing our countryside, working in harmony with nature to produce food you can trust.