Your Poul­try

The real lives of free range chick­ens and how to make them hap­pier

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Sue Clarke

The term ‘free range’

is of­ten used in ad­ver­tis­ing these days. It is usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by images of sun­shine and green pas­tures with flocks of healthy chick­ens liv­ing a happy life.

How­ever, the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the term and the re­al­ity of a range where poul­try roam free can be quite dif­fer­ent. There can be prac­ti­cal rea­sons that make it dif­fi­cult to give poul­try a good qual­ity nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

1 The cli­mate varies

The sun does not al­ways shine and the grass is not al­ways green. The sun may be blis­ter­ingly hot and the ground like con­crete, bereft of veg­e­ta­tion. It could be deep in snow for months of the year. In this coun­try, it is more likely to be windy, over­cast and muddy un­der­foot for about half of the year.

In ad­ver­tis­ing, poul­try are al­ways pic­tured on the most idyl­lic of days in prime con­di­tion. How­ever, any­one with poul­try knows the cycle of life in­cludes sea­sonal moults where birds can look very scruffy, and the wear and tear of old age.

2 Free range is lim­ited

The term ‘ free range’ im­plies un­lim­ited free­dom to roam. How­ever, as with all farmed live­stock there are lim­its on just how far a chicken can go. Even herds of free-rang­ing wild an­i­mals like bi­son in North Amer­ica or ele­phants and an­telopes in Africa are of­ten con­fined by man-made struc­tures like Na­tional Park bound­aries and roads or en­vi­ron­men­tal bar­ri­ers like rivers, lakes, sea or moun­tains.

When the term ‘ free range’ was first used to de­scribe the keep­ing of do­mes­tic poul­try com­mer­cially, it some­times re­ferred to hens that were free to move around but were still in­side a shed.

This is now known as ‘barn-housed’ or ‘barn-raised’. Barn-raised birds are able to move at will within the con­fines of the build­ing, but re­main pro­tected from the ex­tremes of weather and from preda­tors. There is an un­lim­ited sup­ply of food and wa­ter and, in the case of layer hens, ac­cess to perches and nests for lay­ing.

New Zealand has an an­i­mal wel­fare def­i­ni­tion of what is meant by ‘ free range’ for the com­mer­cial layer hen in­dus­try. For eggs to be la­belled free range, the flock must com­ply with and pass in­spec­tion for cri­te­ria laid down by NAWAC, the Na­tional An­i­mal Wel­fare Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee in the An­i­mal Wel­fare (Layer Hens) Code of Wel­fare 2012 .

This cri­te­ria is a use­ful start­ing point for any­one with a back­yard flock.

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