Are they organic? Part 1 – Genetics

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When we talk to people about our chickens we are often asked the question: “Are  they organic?”. It’s not possible to answer this question with a straight yes or no, but I promise not to waffle. This post is part one of three that will address the issues of:

1. Genetics
2. Farming Practices and
3. Feeding Practices.

Part 1. Genetics

Once upon a time there was an Aussie farmer, keen to produce the best organic chicken he possibly could. Not one for taking shortcuts, the farmer keenly read all the rules about organic chicken production, but he came across a problem. ‘….slower growing species for meat production…’ the standard read, but the farmer knew there weren’t any. So he set about to fix the problem.

One of the reasons we began the development of Sommerlad chickens was in response to the Australian Certified Organic Standard which states:  “5.2.19. Selection of genetics shall be such as to conform to the principles and aims of organic production. This shall include preference for slower growing species for meat production and species which are able to perform their natural social and physical functions. As a guide, meat chicken species should be grown to a minimum age of 70 days”.

Sommerlad chickens have an inherently slow growth rate and between 70 and 84 days of age we begin to select them for the table.

This is unique

Presently, all other commercial chicken farms in Australia (including certified free range and organic), rear fast growing meat chicken strains: ‘Ross’ or ‘Cobb’. These strains are owned and developed by the intensive chicken industry in Scotland and America, and are imported into Australia. They are selectively bred and developed for intensive indoor production with an emphasis on feed efficiency and breast meat development, with the genetic potential to reach processing age at 35 days. In most instances certified free range and organic chicken farmers process their fast growing meat chickens somewhere between 42 and 56 days. Presuming optimal management practices are in place, these birds cannot be slowed down without severe feed restriction. Read more about the welfare issues associated with fast growth rate in meat chickens.

dad-and-geoff-on-grading-day

Seeking more appropriate genetics, like those that are in keeping with an organic farming ethos, we returned to diverse strains of Australian heritage table poultry to begin the long and costly process of developing slower growing meat chickens that can thrive in Australia’s outdoor rearing environments. Sommerlad chickens boast a range of high welfare characteristics which include: active foraging behaviour, balanced body conformation, strong legs, heat-resistance and improved natural endurance to diseases endemic to Australian poultry flocks.

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