A generation ago, Australians raised chickens for their eggs. Cockerals and spent layers were culled for their meat; thus it was an occasional treat.
A dedicated meat industry began in the 1950s. Two family enterprises took the lead and began vertical integration, contracting out the growing of broilers. They formed associations with the supermarkets—Steggles with Coles, and Ingham with Woolworths.
The price of chicken has remained relatively unchanged, mostly due to the industry’s high productivity. In 1975, it took 64 days to grow chickens to market weight; today a chicken can be ready to eat in 35. Efficiency is also achieved through scale and high stocking densities; a typical new farm will house 320 000 chickens, in eight sheds, of 40 000 each. Up to 19 birds will share one square metre of space. There are associated health issues: leg weakness and skeletal development problems, respiratory disease and skin damage.
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Just two corporations control 70 per cent of the 834 000 tonne-a-year chicken meat market: Ingham (owned by US-based TPG Capital) and Baiada (with brands Lilydale and Steggles). The majority of chicken is sold on supermarket shelves, now powerful gatekeepers to Australia’s food supply. Per capita consumption of poultry meat has soared from 10.5kg (1969–70) to 44.6kg (2012-13). One third of Australians eat chicken three or more times a week.
As eaters have grown more aware of their food and desired chickens free to range, industry saw an opportunity to grow. Their advertisements show a chicken on pasture and their descriptions say “free to roam“… but what’s the picture behind the scenes? Labeling is lax, feel-good marketing terms hide the ugly truth, and there is a myriad of certification.
The alternative? Eat better. Eat less. And source from a small farmer, if you can.
Listed below are farms with chickens that live most of their lives on pasture; they are either free to range or housed in mobile units. Nutrients from their manure fertilise the soil to encourage growth of pasture and other crops. They may be from a slower growing breed, a good ranger, which will taste better.
Look for these brands at farmers’ markets and local independent stores near you. Taste the difference and tell your friends!
NB: Hormones have not been used in the chicken meat industry for at least 40 years.
Support local farmers and eat delicious fresh food to boot! Check our other directories: milk, eggs, pork, fruit and vegetables, garlic, turkeys and chickens.
Contribute: Do you know a farm that should be here? Email info AT flavourcrusader DOT com for inclusion. Learn more about the directories.
Arden Farm, Orange
John and Kate Polain’s chickens, of the Faverolle breed, are free to roam chemical-free pastures. The farmers use planned grazing that includes moving stock continually to fresh pasture. This encourages deep-rooted perennial grasses to improve the soil and build soil carbon.
BrokenBack Free Range, Broke
Craig Holyman raises broilers, free to roam on a rotating grazing program in the heart of the Hunter Valley. Protected by a Maremma dog, the chickens forage, explore and dust bathe.
Buena Vista Farm, Gerringong
Inspired by Joel Salatin, Fiona and Adam Walmsley began producing pastured poultry. The chickens arrive as day-olds, and after two or three weeks in a brooder room, they forage in fresh grass, protected by fox-proof electric fencing. They grow white commercial and Sommerlad breeds.
Burrawong Gaian, Barraganyatti
Beth and Hayden McMillan raise chickens from day-olds. The chickens forage in the pasture with a diet supplemented by corn. The McMillans hand process, pack and distribute their chickens; they are chemical and antibiotic-free.
Byron Creek Farm, Byron Bay
The farmers practice paddock rotation so the chickens are always on fresh pasture, scratching and foraging for bugs and insects.
Carbeen Pastured Produce, Manildra
Rodger and Katherine’s farming practices are based on holistic farming to improve the health of the soil. Their mobile coop is moved daily to access fresh forage. The chickens are raised without the use of chemicals or antibiotics.
Caroola Farm, Mulloon
Penny Kothe and Paul McKinnon raise free range poultry in a movable pen that follow cattle and sheep. They grow Light Sussex crosses, Australorps, Light Sussex, Sommerlad and Buff Sussex breeds; the meat birds are grown for up to 13 weeks.
Full Circle Farm, Jilliby
Shannon and Kylie Kelly rotate their chickens onto new pasture each day; the chickens free to eat grubs, bugs, and the like. The farmers process the chickens on-farm when they are between eight and twelve weeks old.
Grassland Poultry, Wellington
Bryan and Kim’s chickens are free to forage: they seek out seeds, greens, insects and micro-organisms in the soil. Alongside cattle and sheep, the chickens are rotated onto new pastures, returning nightly to their shelter and protected by their maremma dog. The husband and wife team are authorized growers of the Sommerlad breed.
Hillside Pastured Farm, Wirrimah
Daniel and Christine Relyea, Sydney escapees, raise their chickens in a Salatin-style chookmobile. The chickens are grown for eight weeks guarded by two dogs, Jerry and Jemima.
Hillside Meats, Eungai Creek
Colin and Lesley Meehan’s chickens live their lives outsie in the sun, on grass, as nature intended.
Kurrafalls Farm, Lidster
Lisa Darley and Quenten Jones free range their chickens in the olive grove, protected by electric netting and Maremma dogs. The chickens sleep in a custom-built A-frame caravan, which is moved weekly.
Little Hill Farm, Newcastle
Simon and Kelly’s commercial and Sommerlad chickens are free to forage for insects, graze on lush grass and dust bath at will. The wild treats are supplemented with quality grain mixes, mineral-rich seaweed meal, calcium, garlic and apple cider vinegar. The chickens are completely free ranging, protected by two Maremma dogs.
Near River Produce, Hollisdale
Therese and Andrew Hearne’s chickens are placed in a ‘tractor’ that provides shelter and protection; it is moved onto fresh grass daily. The outdoor life and a more natural growth rate provides healthier and flavoursome chicken.
To grow delicious chicken, the Sommerlads developed new chicken genetics. They returned to heritage breeds and selected birds for characteristics like foraging behaviour, heat-resistance and strong legs, resulting in a bird growing up to 84 days and suited to slow cooking.
Tathra Place, Taralga
Luke and Pia Winder’s chickens are moved daily to fresh pasture. The chickens free range beneath trampoline sheds on pasture, under guard of a Maremma dog, surrounded by an electric fence.
The Farmers’ Larder, Bonnie Doon
Stewart Laing watched supermarkets destroy the food economy of his village near Edinburgh. With wife Louise, they are fighting back, producing good tasting food for their local community. The small flock have plenty of space, living under fruit trees and scratching up worms and other bugs from the dirt under their feet.
Hand to Ground, Baynton
Alex and Emily Sims produce chicken seasonally, during Autumn and Spring. The birds live on fresh pasture and are moved daily in a Salatin-style chicken mobile. In addition to their wild forage, they are given a GM-free, locally milled wholegrain feed. They are processed between eight and nine weeks.
Koallah Farm, Koallah
The chickens are raised on pasture; they eat grass and roots, and forage for bugs, worms, larvae and more. They are never locked up, even at night. Up to 1000 Cobb chickens run with a handful of Isa Brown hens in a 30 hectare paddock, a stocking rate of 35 hens per hectare, under the watchful eye of a Maremma.
Life On The Land, Tallarook
Steve Zezos’s chickens are free to scratch the earth, eat pasture and search for bugs outdoors; their supplementary grain ration is free from medication and GMOs. They chickens are housed in a shelter that is moved onto fresh pasture daily with an electric fence for extra protection.
Milawa Free Range, Ovens Valley
Russell Mickle’s chickens are grown to 12 weeks with shelters to protect from extreme temperature and predators. Their diet is supplemented by mixed grain and spring water. Buy from 15 Davison Place in South Yarra and at Melbourne farmers’ markets. Tip from @mindfulfoodie
Milking Yard Farm, East Trentham
Bruce and Roz Burton grow Sommerlad chickens, a slow growing breed, with a rich flavour and texture reminiscent of the Bresse and Label Rouge chickens from France. The birds thrive in small batches, roaming freely in the forest, grazing on a diet of wild grubs, seeds, grits, and organic feed.
Mirboo Pastured Poultry, Mirboo North
Ilan Goldman’s chickens are enclosed in a ‘chook tractor’ that is moved daily onto fresh pasture, based on the methods of Joel Salatin. They grow white commercial and Sommerlad breeds. The feed is predominantly wheat, containing no antibiotics or pharmaceuticals.
Shady Oak Farm Free Range and Pastured Poultry, Wesburn
House in Salatin-style chicken mobiles, Roberta Donovan’s chickens are free to forage on pasture.
Taranaki Farm, Woodend
Ben Falloon runs a multi-generational family farm, just north of Melbourne. The chickens are raised in movable pens for fresh pasture every day.
Timbarra Farm, Don Valley
Chris Brock’s chickens are raised in mobile pens that are moved daily to fresh pasture; the chickens are also free to roam within an area protected by electric netting. From two weeks old the birds are out on the paddocks, eating greens and insects and soaking up the sun.
Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chickens, Central Victoria
Ian and Mandy McClaren’s chickens are left to free roam and are rotated onto fresh grass each day. The farm is chemical-free and managed holistically to improve the health of the soil, plants and animals.
See NSW producers.
Ayton Farm, Rathdowney
The chickens are housed in broiler sheds, moved at least once a daily on to fresh ground. The chickens enjoy foraging for plants and insects, with their main source of food being organic chicken grower mash.
Bellasato Farm, Braemeadows
Dan and Leanne Cornder’s chickens forage for grasses, legumes, insects, and eat GMO-free grain. The Sommerlad chickens free range within electro-netted areas. They are regularly moved to manage the soil and pasture, and are processed on-farm. Coming soon.
CGL Beef, Gympie
Warren and Karen McEwan raise their chickens outdoors. They are housed in a lightweight, floorless pen, that is moved daily onto fresh pasture. The chickens are free to scratch, hunt and dust bathe.
Marlee May Farm, Wolvi
Denise Maras keeps 50 chickens in paddocks of 500 square metres so each chicken has 10 square metres each, with room for them to move around and peck. The chickens are protected from flying predators with overhead netting.
Melsted Park, Black Mountain
Anna and Michael Henbury’s chickens are raised in mobile shelters giving them access to fresh pasture; the shelters are moved every day. The chickens graze on the fresh grass, bugs and insects, and in return help regenerate their pastures.
Peachester Farm, Peachester
Matt and Karen Schmidt move the mobile pens daily so the chickens always have fresh grass to eat, bugs to catch and new soil to scratch in. It protects the birds from predators, and gives them access unspoilt land while they rejuvenate the pasture.
Piggy in the Middle, Kilkivan
Cousins Dean and Mason Mayne, and their respective families, own two farms in Kilkivan. The chickens, following the pigs and sheep, scratch, aerate and fertilise the land. The chickens are housed at night to protect them from predators, and are guarded by Maremmas during the day.
Symara Organic Farm, The Summit
Ray and Samantha Palmer grow produce for local eaters through their CSA; they have recently begun growing Sommerlad chickens.
Walker Farm Foods, Cambroon
Kacey and George are committed to creating high welfare local food using regenerative agriculture practices. They grow both the conventional and Sommerlad chickens. Moved daily, they enjoy fresh air and grass, exercise, and sunshine.
Barossa Birds, Rosedale
Amy Tucker and Michael Hemphill aim to develop a poultry business in a sustainable manner, which means lower stocking rates and a limited number of chickens. The chickens are raised in mobile homes, moved daily for new foraging opportunities, and to provide protection from predators.
Inman Valley Poultry, Yankalilla
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Ashley and Christine Boyer free range their birds at densities less than one bird per square metre, and rotate them daily. The chemical-free chickens are grown out up to 90 days. Tip from @SimonBryantChef
Nomad Farms, Strathalbyn
Tom Bradman and Verity Slee’s chickens are housed in open pens that provide protection from predators, shelter from the elements, with access to natural foraging, fresh air and sunlight. The pens are moved daily onto fresh pasture, returning in 6-12 months, to regenerate the landscape.
Tansley Farm, Adelaide Hills
At the ecological Tansley farm, the chickens are moved at least once daily for fresh grass and insects; each section of pasture is allowed to rest for a full year before chickens are grazed there again. They produce broilers and roosters, which are ideal for braising.
Small free range farm: Greenslades
Southampton Homestead, Balingup
It’s all alive, it’s all intelligent, it’s all connected is the philosophy of Jeff and Michelle’s farm. The chickens are free to forage on diverse species of chemical-free grasses, rotated frequently, stimulating the pasture with low intensity manure and grazing. They grow Sommerlad breed chickens.
Field & Forest Farm, Poatina
Inspired by Joel Salatin’s Polyface farm, Derek, Anna, Cody and Poppy set out to replicate the model in Tasmania. They house their chickens in shelters so that they can be moved onto fresh pasture for the chickens whilst regenerating the land.
cc photo by Ed Townend.
ACCC: Court orders chicken companies to pay $400,000 for ‘free to roam’ misleading claims, October 31, 2013
Sustainable Table: Free range egg and chicken guide
The Age: Ben Butler, Secrecy rules the roost, February 18, 2012
The Age: Ben Schneiders, Inside Baiada, dire picture of health, safety, November 21, 2011
ABC News: Karen Barlow, Poultry firm under review after man decapitated, Dec 3, 2010