"Shouldn't welfare really be about welfare and not be based on confusion?"
This may sound harsh but consider this fact – research has revealed that 97% of consumers* are confused about how meat chickens are currently grown! Combine this with another simple fact – the retail world is driven by consumers' wants and demands. That puts consumers in a pretty powerful position, but how can you make informed choices with all this confusion?
The real risk is that farming practices begin to be driven by what consumers may "think" is a good thing, rather than practices that genuinely represent a welfare benefit or a sustainable solution. These may not be popular opinions in some circles but let's face it, it's time for some reality!
At Freedom Farms, we believe in speaking up about the real solutions and arming our customers with the facts they need to make informed choices. While you're visiting our website, click on any term you see highlighted in red to get the facts.
*Source APIA Survey June 2010
Antibiotic use in food producing animals is another confusing and widely misunderstood area. The first most important fact to point out is that Australian chicken meat is subject to the Australian Government's very stringent antibiotic residue testing standards. Our chicken meat is fully compliant.
So does this mean that antibiotics are never used? No. Like all animals, chickens may become unwell and require treatment with antibiotics. Certain antibiotics can also be used to prevent some common conditions. However, therapeutic antibiotics are only rarely used and when they are it is under expert veterinary advice. If treatment is required, these medications are subject to appropriate withdrawal time to ensure residue standards are met. This means that even people with allergies to certain antibiotics do not have to worry.
We are also very careful that the antibiotics we use do not promote the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria that may interfere with the treatment of serious human illness. This approach provides the best outcome for animal welfare, whilst providing consumers with the confidence of knowing that we take the use of all antibiotics very seriously.
No chickens in Australia are fed or administered steroids or hormones in any way. This applies to all farming methods including conventional, organic, free range or Freedom Farmed. Testing conducted by the government confirms this fact on a regular basis. The question is often asked; how do the chickens grow so quickly if they're not given steroids? There are many different breeds of chicken – some are fast growing breeds and others are slow growing breeds. The chickens that are used for meat production are naturally fast growing breeds that have been selectively bred for some 60 years. These improved genetics combined with good husbandry and precisely formulated nutritional requirements, means that meat chickens reach their optimal size quicker than another breed would.
The concern about chemicals used in processing chickens is another area that's largely misunderstood. Chickens are cleaned, washed and chilled during the slaughtering process to make them safe and healthy to eat. Like the water we drink, the water used in the production process is chlorinated to make it safer and control bacteria. There are absolutely no other chemicals used or added to the chickens.
The processing of chicken products is administered by State and Federal authorities under strict regulation to ensure safe food products. These regulations apply equally to all farming systems including conventional, organic, free range or Freedom Farmed.
Despite common misconceptions, meat chickens are not kept in cages. Conventional farms have large open barns where the chickens can move about freely. The free movement of chickens in conventional barns can be extensive, as confirmed by the company's own research and documented in independent studies, such as the study reported by the British Poultry Science journal.*
There are also two different sorts of barns used in conventional farming: "closed or tunnel" barns and "open sided" barns, both of which provide the chickens with easy access to food and water and protect the chickens from the elements. All conventionally farmed chickens are fed a grain based diet with no added hormones or steroids.
*Source: (A.P Preston & L.B Murphy, 1989: Movement of broiler chickens reared in commercial conditions)
There are different types of barns used in chicken farming. The majority of the modern barns built today for conventionally farmed chickens are the "tunnel or closed" style of barn with solid walls and no opening to the outside elements. These modern barns have their environmental conditions controlled with fresh air drawn into the barn through cooling pads and fans and the temperature and humidity electronically controlled. Whilst this style of barn is common in Australia, Freedom Farms doesn't use any closed or tunnel barns in the farming of our chickens.
There are different types of barns used in chicken farming.
The "open sided barn" is the traditional style with wire mesh side openings, adjustable curtains or shutters to allow the farm manager to control the fresh air and sunlight streaming into the shed. The age of the chickens and weather conditions largely dictate the curtain/shutter management on the farms.
In unfavourable weather conditions, the curtains or shutters may be partly or fully closed to protect the chickens from outside elements. Fans in the barn may be used to supplement ventilation. In hot weather, in addition to natural air flow, ventilation fans and water misting/evaporative systems may also be used to cool the barn.
A small number of Freedom Farmed open sided barns may also use a combination of natural and mechanical ventilation as used in "tunnel barns".
Freedom Farms are exclusively reared in "open sided barns', where chickens are exposed to the natural elements, particularly sunlight, considered extremely important in the early development and welfare of the chickens.
Read more about the Freedom Farms Barn.
Free range chickens are produced using similar management, housing and feeding practices as normal conventionally farmed chickens. As well as the conventional barn, the chickens have access to an outdoor run for part of each day for a portion of the growing period. In the earlier stages of growing, the chickens are kept indoors to protect them from the elements. Free range systems have a lower stocking density than conventionally farmed chickens.
Organic chickens are grown generally in the same way as free range chickens with some additional requirements. Whilst all chickens, no matter the farming method are fed a grain based diet, organic chickens must be fed on predominantly certified organic ingredients. The use of vaccinations are also limited where possible and some more specific guidelines in relation to the outdoor area exist.
There is absolutely no difference between organic chickens and any other farming method including normal conventional chickens, in relation to the use of steroids or hormones. No chickens in Australia are fed or administered steroids or hormones in any way.
All of these terms are descriptions that have been used by producers in relation to normal, conventional chicken farming, in an attempt to help consumers understand that there are in fact no cages used in the growing of meat chickens. Understandably, many people don't understand that there are two completely separate farming industries: one that produces chickens for meat and another that farms chickens to produce eggs. The breeds of chicken are also very different, with the egg producing chickens being a smaller breed than the meat chickens.
The egg industry for many years used cages as the main means of housing their laying chickens. The commonly seen video footage of chickens in cages comes from this practise. Chickens farmed for meat in Australia have never been housed in caged systems such as these. Meat chickens are housed in large, cage free barns where the chickens can move about.
But where did the eggs for these "meat chickens" come from – does that mean they may have been laid by chickens that were in cages? No. Even the chickens that lay the eggs for the meat industry are not kept in cages. They too live in large open barns with the addition of elevated nesting boxes for laying their eggs.
The amount of chickens kept in each barn, is referred to in animal welfare standards as the "stocking density". This density is determined by the amount of chickens (measured in kilos) per square metre of barn floor area. In Australia, the regulations for stocking densities are set out by The Australian Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, which stipulates maximum densities of between 36kg and 40kg per square metre, depending on the barn type and weather conditions.
Freedom Farms has a maximum of 28kg of chickens per square metre of barn space, which provides 15% – 30% more space than required by the current government Animal Welfare Code. The amount of space provided in Freedom Farms barns also adheres to the higher level welfare guidelines set by the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme.
The maximum density for free range systems is between 28kg and 30kg per square metre of barn space, depending on the type of barn used. This system has the addition of an outdoor run which must be at least the same size as the floor area of the barn (as defined in the Australian Poultry Industry Association Free Range Standards).