Tonight sees the first of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new series:
called ‘Chicken Run’ & shown on Channel 4 over the next three evenings at 9pm, it’s a hard-hitting documentary designed to make us all think about where cheap supermarket chicken comes from: taking only 39 days to get from hatched egg to hot rotisserie, with the unfortunate birds cramped in literally ‘fowl’ conditions with a bare minimum of space & unable to support their own weight with no chance of ever seeing natural light, it’s a grim existence (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a life).
We love to eat chicken, here in the UK. In fact the average Brit consumes a staggering 25kg per annum, which is why 855 million broiler (meat) chickens are slaughtered every year in the UK. 95% of those are reared indoors in industrial conditions in vast, enclosed sheds each containing around 40,000 birds. By the time they reach maturity they will be squeezed in at a stocking density of 17 birds per m²: so tightly packed that they cannot stretch their wings, preen or even walk or turn around. This leads inevitably to welfare problems such as chronic lameness & heart failure. 5% of them ether die or have to be prematurely culled. They endure this for the 39 short days for which they are reared – only 5½ weeks from newly-hatched chick to oven-ready bird.
Free-range fowl on the other hand take twice as long to mature, & enjoy access to the great outdoors as well as being provided with roosting areas, perches & other natural stimuli: after all hens are sociable, curious creatres with a keen sense of hierarchy – hence the term, ‘pecking order’.
Exasperatingly chasing our own birds off the muckheap for the umpty-umpth time today as they enthusiastically scattered it about the farmyard, I realised I’d rather have my cheeky chickens running around the place so very clearly enjoying life with their happy free-ranging & luxuriously indulgent dust-bathing at risk of providing an impromptu meal for the odd fox or even buzzard, than to know they’d never felt the sun on their feathers or the breeze lightly ruffling their gloriously uncooped plumage. To walk around the farm, with the sound of the ladies’ contented clucking; or the excitedly loud broadcast cackling of “I’ve just laid an egg!”; or Myrddin’s shrill “How good it is to have a harem!” crowing, ringing in my ears…..well, without them, it just wouldn’t feel like a farm in the purest sense, would it? And when I walk across the middle yard & they run to greet me with their myriad coloured, outstretched wings hoping for a handful of corn or a tasty titbit: it simply enriches my hard, working day.
But the taste of those hens’ truly delicious, high-domed, golden-yolked enormous eggs is worth every moment of their care: the taste is unsurpassed & neither of us could possibly eat anything other than a truly natural home-produced egg, ever again.
Meanwhile when the unwanted young cockerels have to be killed for Sunday roast, Tony ensures their end is mercifully painless & extremely swift; & that every subsequent part of said bird is put to good use providing many more satisfyingly succulent & nutritious meals, than your sadly sacrificed supermarket spatchcock.
Our hens enjoy the best, longest, possible free-range life; & the young unwitting cocks strut the walk with aplomb until their very last moment whilst the resident cockerel enjoys a lengthy, productive & magnificently-handsome lifestyle: truly, something to crow about…..as are the amazing eggs & the tender, tasty meat with which they furnish the Ffarm in return.
So CHICKEN OUT, NOW – sign up as so many thousands of frustrated shoppers already have, & put your name to this rapidly-growing campaign! (If nothing else boycott your local heartless, ruthless, money-orientated supergiant supermarkets & support your quality local butcher, instead; even if for no more satisfying reason, than demonstrating to these superpower monsters that we really do care about the honest, healthy, ethical origin of our food). Let’s take our power as consumers into our own hands for once.
Come on, click that ‘Chicken Out!’ link in the right-hand column Poultry Section to join the movement for more tasty, healthy, happy chicken! And when it comes to your next family meal or Sunday lunch, please make a pledge to buy a free-range bird: it’ll cost you around £5, which is hardly expensive when compared to many other meat joints – & you’ll immediately appreciate the far superior quality in terms of taste & tenderness. Because it really shouldn’t be possible to raise an animal – & make a profit on its’ life, for a paltry £2.
Incidentally for those of you who are not convinced….a friend of ours recently suffered witnessing her little grandson experiencing painful & humiliating surgery. Why? Because his mother had long been addicted to fast-food, chicken takeaway meals…..& to major supermarkets’ cut-price/value chicken. When her son was born his tiny penis was inverted right back into his body: so he’s had to have an operation just for the opportunity to enjoy a normally healthy sex life as an adult. Medical experts have attributed this to his mother’s predilection for ‘cheap’ chicken (i.e. that which has been rapidly & artificially forced, & whose maturation has been speeded up with synthetic growth hormones). Is it really worth adding insult to injury, to the next generation…..?
So PLEASE, ‘Chicken Out’ & support your local free-range meat producer. Half the eggs produced in the UK are now free range; so why not the birds themselves? Let’s put quality, not quantity, back on the nation’s menu!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch….
when we weren’t chasing chickens off the muckheap, Tony continued the back-breaking work of cleaning out one of the deep-littered pens whilst I did some house cleaning & sorted through paperwork before popping into town to visit the vet for further advice on Morganna’s mastitis treatment. Discussing it with Angus, he advised that we use the ‘Leo Yellow’ tubes again; after which we are to put her onto ‘dry cow’ therapy in which the entire udder is treated to clear up any latent problems & thus hopefully prevent any incidences of mastitis during her next lactation.
By the time I returned home Tony had already finished clearing the pen; so to give himself a break before tackling the lambing shed he fitted the new window he’d crafted into the aperture in the upper floor of the Long Barn, which looks super & will help preserve the integrity of the building. He then bravely scaled the haybarn ladder to mend the repair to the sheeting on the Long Barn roof, which had again worked loose during last night’s gale; a storm which had rattled us as much as the roof, giving us a sleepless night as the wind roared angrily around the farmstead. I should point out that I’m full of unstinting admiration for Tony. Although he’s a pilot he suffers from chronic vertigo (in fact many pilots do) & really hates working at height. So the work he’s done on the Long Barn window & roof in recent weeks – including his annual exploits stacking hay bales for all & sundry in the local area – are all the more praiseworthy. He really has such determination & guts; & I love him all the more for this selfless courage.
After treating Morganna, settling the rest of the Ffarm & spending some time with poor, lonely Darwin who really wants to be back out with his other pony pals, I cooked us some supper whilst Tony continued typing the Design Brief; then we settled down to watch the unpalatable but important ‘Chicken Run’……& if by Episode Three you haven’t clicked that link in the ‘Poultry’ section of the right-hand column, then you have a hard heart indeed.