Are they organic? Part 2- farming practices

When we talk to people about our chickens we are often asked the question: “Are  they organic?” It’s not possible to respond this question with a straight yes or no answer, and this blog post is part two of three, that address the issues of:

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

Part 2. Farming Practices

At Sommerlad Poultry, we pasture raise our chickens using regenerative farming practices, which means we continually build up and improve the biology and health of our soil and land, and don’t use agricultural chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

We raise our chickens in very small flocks, using shelters that are designed to be portable, so we can move them across our farm with a tractor, to give our chickens access to fresh clean forage areas.

Growers Kildare January 2017

When we move a chicken shelter, the old forage area is given time to rest, sanitise and recover, before the shelter is ever returned to the same site. This respite from chickens allows the forage area to grass-over, and also allows some disease organisms to be killed by the action of the sun.

moving-grower-shelter-nov-2016

The amount of time before the shelter is returned to the same site depends on factors like the local environment and the seasonal variations: we have to observe, and respond, to the biological changes of our land.

To improve our chickens’ shelter and forage environment, we plant trees, such as the Tagasaste or ‘tree lucerne’ below.

Planting Lucerne trees Feb 2016

Our chicken is produced as an integral part of a sustainable whole-farm plan, meaning we must plan how many chickens, and other livestock, we can successfully pasture-raise on our farm, throughout the changing seasons.

Kildare March 2017

Our home farm ‘Kildare’ is a diverse 1,300 acre property, with altitude rising from approx. 900 through to 1100 metres, and gently undulating grazing paddocks rising to steeper hills. It is well-watered by natural springs and dams, and as well as our chickens, we also manage goats and cattle.

Our chickens are given the opportunity to genuinely free range forage in our paddocks, and in return, they continually improve our land, by returning nutrients and aeration to the soil.

When we took over our farm we found many of the paddocks overtaken by African Lovegrass, like the one pictured below in Autumn.

arrival of portable building Kildare May 2015 113

In just 18 months we began to see the effects of our regenerative farming practices. The same paddock is pictured below in spring, and shows how the African Lovegrass no longer has the same strangle hold, and other pasture species are able to return, particularly where the chickens have worked and fertilised the ground. We also continue to flail-mow the paddock to lay back down carbon.

paddock-beside-cattle-yards-november-2016

Our regenerative methods can also be referred to as ‘organic’ or ‘biological’ farming.

The Australian Organic Standard, under its section titled  ‘Livestock Production Principles and Aims’ it states:

“Where appropriate, livestock are encouraged for use as part of a dynamic organic production system. Livestock may contribute to the organic farming system in the following ways:

  • Improving and maintaining the fertility of the soil;
  • Controlling weeds through well managed grazing;
  • Diversifying the biology and interactions of the farm.”

 

In contrast to portable shelters, is a fixed-shed system like the one pictured below.

Free range fixed shed example

The picture above is representative of large-scale free range chicken meat production in Australia. Large-scale organic chicken meat production is similar, however stocking density can be lower, depending on certification standards. The sheds are fixed in one place on the property, and each successive batch of chickens is given access to the same forage area. This system allows the shed to be fitted-out with automated feeding and watering systems, and reduces labour requirements. A farmer cannot justify the investment in a fitted-out shed like this, without committing to producing large batches of chickens per shed.

When this type of fixed-shed system is coupled with fast growing strains of meat chicks, that are bought-in from the intensive chicken industry, large quantities of relatively low-cost free range and organic chicken meat is regularly available on supermarket shelves.

We offer this information out of a desire to equip conscientious consumers with a better understanding of farming practices. We hope this will help them make informed purchasing decisions, rather than having to rely solely on label terminology. Our information comes from our own hands-on experience in the Australian meat chicken industry, including intensive and alternative production systems.

 

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3 comments

  1. Great work, Kathryn

    Laura Dalrymple 0409 929 896

    FEATHER AND BONE GUARANTEED PROVENANCE, FULL TRANSPARENCY, NO EXCEPTIONS. Order online for delivery or pick up. Or drop in and see what’s on the block. Opening hours Tuesday – Saturday: 9.00 am – 4.00 pm 8/10-14 Lilian Fowler Place, Marrickville, NSW 2204 02 9818 2717 orders@featherandbone.com.au http://www.featherandbone.com.au Get the dirt – subscribe to the newsletter

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  2. Thanks for the very clear details on how to identify chicken-raising at its healthiest! We’re in Sydney, so we buy your bodies through Feather & Bone. Real meat, for which we also thank you.

    I note you’re in Tenterfield. Do you give talks to garden groups in the region?

    Best
    Gil Teague

  3. Hi Gil, I’m glad to know you enjoyed the information, and thank you so much for your support. Yes, we are at Tenterfield, which is very close to the Queensland border, Michael has been invited to give talks at the Border Landcare Organic Group (BLOG) and Granite Borders Landcare. I did see the beautiful books you have on-line. We both love gardening, and our parents, and gradnparents have always gardened, but since moving onto our current property two years ago, we have not been able to even start. I certainly am craving the beauty of a garden.

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