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.
A free PDF emailed to you, plus news and exclusives
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 46.2kg (2015-16). 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 Australorps free range 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.
Brooklet Springs Farm, Brooklet
Georgina Goddard and Morgan Wilkie raise organic chickens on pasture. The chickens live in mobile sheds that are moved daily.
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.
Canowindra Farms, Canowindra
The Doldens’ chickens are pasture-raised from sunlight to sundown, and are processed chlorine-free. Tip from Caroline.
Crooked River Farm, Gerrigong
David Lhuede, Craig Williams, Erin Clare and her partner Grant produce pastured chicken. The chickens live in mobile pens and are closely guarded from predators by Maremma dogs.
Ethical Farmers, Somersby
Ethical Farmers is the amalgamation of Egganic plus Grass Roots urban butchery – GRUB. They pasture raise Transylvanian Naked Neck cross and standard commercial chickens. The chickens are fed supplementary certified organic grain.
Foxies Farm, Newrybar
Andrew Cameron and Stuart Fox pasture raised organic chickens. The chickens scratch and forage the pasture and soil. Their grazing cells are moved regularly for the best result for our land and the health of the birds.
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.
Grace Springs Farm, Sussex
The family farm without the use of chemicals, with their main aim to improve the health of the soil and the pastures. The chickens are moved onto fresh pasture regularly.
Great Northern Poultry, Gunnedah
Cameron Ward and Angus Shepherd practice holistic management and regenerative farming, with poultry health and well-being of the highest priority. They grow Chinese Silkies and a crossbred black table bird.
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 grow Sommerlad chickens.
Highfield Farm and Woodland, Mt Adrah
The chickens are raised on pasture and free to find grubs and insects, free to dust bathe and clamber among tree roots. AT the abattoir, the chickens are processed with respect; they are not pumped with water nor tumbled in chlorine.
Hillside Meats, Eungai Creek
Colin and Lesley Meehan’s chickens live their lives outsie in the sun, on grass, as nature intended.
Hillside Pastured Farm, Wirrimah
Daniel and Christine Relyea’s chickens are housed in chicken ‘tractors’. They move them every day to new pasture following the cattle. The poultry are processed in an on-site, reducing the stress.
Little Hill Farm, Newcastle
Simon and Kelly’s 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.
Medway Farm, Sutton Forest
James and Belinda Galbraith’s chickens are raised on pastured, protected by a hen house that is shifted to a fresh location daily.
Topi Open Range, Bungwahl
Sue and Andy Williams’ chickens live on open green pasture, drink fresh rainwater, play in dust baths, eat grass and Australian certified organic feed. They regularly move the caravans so that the chickens are always on fresh grass, which improves the biodiversity of the soil.
Wynlen House, Braidwood
To sustain healthy chickens, Bronwyn Richards and Helen Lynch graze them on mineral-rich soils, and supplements their feed with farm-made mash. Chickens free range during the day and are penned safely at night.
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.
Holistic Pastoral, Alexandra
Daniel Kelton starts by looking after the biodiversity of the land and particularly the soils. His animals graze in compact communities, moved them to fresh pasture each day, first the cattle, sheep, chickens, then the pigs.
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. The feed is predominantly wheat, containing no antibiotics or pharmaceuticals.
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.
The Neuendorf family have been farming in the fertile Lockyer Valley since 1918. They house their chickens in a movable dwelling that is shifted every day to give them access to new pasture.
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.
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.
Heritage Poultry, Richlands
Bill and Jean Joyce’s breed Transylvanian Naked Neck crosses with 12 and 16 strains. They raise their birds outside where they dust bath, eat insects and are allowed to be chickens.
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.
Small free range farm: Bendele Farm.
Falkai Farm, Strathalbyn
On occasion Katherine and Luke sell chicken for braising aged over one and a half years old. Such is the beauty of farming dual purpose breeds! They have spent their lives free ranging, routinely moved onto fresh pasture.
Inman Valley Poultry, Yankalilla
Got a photo? Send it to me at info AT flavourcrusader DOT com
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
Kinmana Organics, Marama
Justin and Rita Porker grow the Sommerlad breed chickens for 84 days. The chickens scratch, peck bug and grubs, flap their wings, run and dust bathe. They are fed certified organic seeds and grains grown onfarm. The chickens have access to the fruit tree orchard, tagasaste and saltbush plantations.
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
Alderton’s Farming, Albany
Zac Jex-Blake believes animals should be raised ethically and we should be giving more back the the earth than we are taking. He is doing exactly that on his farm, free ranging the Sommerlad chicken on pasture.
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.
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