As you may be aware due to the risk of Avian Flu to outdoor birds the Government has issued restrictions for owners of free range poultry which apply to everyone from backyard flocks of a few hens to large farms and producers.
These regulations have been extended again which have forced us at Swillington to review our organic and free range poultry production.
We put the health and welfare of our animals and birds as the highest priority so have been compliant with the restrictions put in place by Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and as such have had to keep our birds separate from any risk caused by migrating wild birds.
As the restrictions currently stand our farm is deemed a ‘High Risk Area’, this doesn’t mean there has been any outbreak just that as we neighbour wetlands and an RSPB reserve and are on the migration route for wild birds, the risk of an overflying wild bird such as a goose or swan potentially being a carrier of the disease and introducing in to our flock is higher.
If Avian Flu is introduced to birds the mortality rate is very high about 80% of birds would die and the rest would be culled by Defra so we have increased our bio security and are following the regulations which in a high risk area mean that the birds must be kept inside.
To ensure the welfare of our birds we have reduced the stocking rate so that they have much more room to live in the sheds are kept on freshly bedded straw and given organic hay to replace roughage they would forage for outdoors. All of this alongside their usual organic feed and fresh water. The sheds all have natural light and ventilation and we are happy that we are keeping the birds in the best conditions possible; we’d love to be able to let them out but given the restrictions it is not worth the risk.
With these restrictions extended to at least the end of April it has had an impact both on our capacity to produce birds (as we are giving them more space in the existing housing) and on the way we can label and sell them.
Under organic regulations, birds must have permanent access to open areas to be classed as organic. However, in exceptional circumstances where there is a recognised risk to human or animal health (as is currently the case), there is provision in the organic standards for this requirement not to apply.
Following discussions with organic certification bodies, Defra has agreed that producers can still label their eggs and meat as organic, provided that all other aspects of the organic regulations are maintained.
Whilst we can still label our chicken as ‘organic’, due to being in a ‘high risk’ area it is now technically not ‘free range’. To be classified as free range, birds can only be permanently housed for a maximum of 12 weeks regardless of circumstances; which is why you will find free range eggs in the supermarkets now being labelled as “temporarily housed for welfare”.
We have previously produced both ‘Organic’ and ‘Free Range’ birds at Swillington with the latter being produced to organic welfare standards but using a custom milled non-organic feed to allow us to adapt when feed supplies change.
Given the continuing uncertainty around Defra regulations we have taken the decision to only produce the Organic birds here at Swillington. These will be reared as currently from day old chicks, fed an entirely organic diet and housed to organic welfare regulations. They are currently housed but will be back outdoors once the temporary restrictions are lifted.
The free range birds that we previously reared at Swillington are now being expertly reared for us by Dr Paul Talling of Loose Birds at his farm in Harome at the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors.
Paul’s farm is not in a high risk area so he is able to let our birds roam free range outdoors on grassland. They are reared from the same breed of chicks, from the same hatchery as ours and live identical outdoor lives as ours were. Paul and his team slaughter their birds on farm in a small, high welfare abattoir the same way we do at Swillington, in fact his farm is the place where Jo, our farmer, did her slaughter training so we have a long working relationship with Paul as a producer.
On balance we think this is the best method of production for our free range birds’ welfare as it allows our ‘free range’ birds to be what we say they are and it allows our team to focus on our high standards of organic chicken production here at Swillington.
Going forward in the meatboxes and our butchery you will be able to understand which birds are which as they will either be labelled as ‘free range’ or ‘organic’ and you can specify which you would prefer. At the moment supply of the organic birds will be limited due to our low stocking rates for welfare reasons whilst the birds are housed.
We hope our customers are supportive of our decision as we felt it right to explain where your food comes from and to ensure that anything we give the ‘Swillington’ stamp of approval is fully traceable and meets our high standards of quality and animal welfare.
In the future we may work with more independent farmers and producers to ensure that we can offer you a great, reliable supply of the best Organic, Rare Breed and Free Range produce that is fully traceable and trustworthy – we aim to be clear to our customers when this occurs.
Poultry production the UK
Sadly, ethically produced birds are still very much the minority, free-range accounts for only 5% of production and less than 1 in every 100 birds is organic the remaining 94% comes from intensively reared and factory farmed birds which never even see the chance to go outdoors. One could argue that this intensive factory farming production, aggressive use of antibiotics and globalised food supply chain allows disease to evolve and spread like never before, resulting in small producers paying the price due to restrictions like these.
Perhaps if we consumed less meat, thought more about how it was produced and the impact that has on the animals, the environment and our bodies that might start to change.
Jo, Ed and the Swillington Team
What’s in a label?
|Sold by Swillington:||Would Never be sold by us|
|Organic (under normal circumstances)||Organic (under temporary ‘high risk’ restrictions.||Free Range (reared for Swillington by Loose Birds)||Factory Farmed Birds
Source: The Guardian
|Birds||Reared from Day Old Chicks, slow grown for approx. 3 months.||Reared from Day Old Chicks, slow grown for approx. 3 months.||Reared from Day Old Chicks, slow grown for approx. 3 months.||Bred to grow unnaturally fast. Deaths from heart attacks that cannot supply enough oxygen to oversized breast muscles common.
33-38 days old at slaughter
|Feed||Organic Certified Feed
No routine antibiotics
|Organic Certified Feed
No routine antibiotics
|Custom Milled Non Organic Feed
No routine antibiotics
|The water and feed are medicated with drugs to control parasites or with mass doses of antibiotics|
|Housing||Housed in small high welfare groups in wooden sheds.
|Housed in small high welfare groups in wooden sheds
|Housed in small high welfare groups in large open arks
|artificially lit shed of around 20,000-30,000 birds|
|Access to outdoors||Free to roam during the day||Temporarily Housed||Free to roam 24 hours||No access to outdoors or natural light.|
|Slaughter||Pre Stunned and slaughter in high welfare on farm abattoir (Swillington)||Pre Stunned and slaughter in high welfare on farm abattoir (Swillington)||Pre Stunned and slaughter in high welfare on farm abattoir (Harome)||High throughput abattoir, can include use of shackles, gassing and no requirement to pre stun.|
|Butchered||Butchered and Packed on the farm at Swillington||Butchered and Packed on the farm at Swillington||Butchered and Packed on the farm at Swillington||Part of a worldwide supply chain.|