Deciding whether to buy organic or conventionally farmed produce requires the consideration of a range of different factors. Here at Coombe Farm Organic we believe purchasing organic is an ethical choice as much as a taste decision.
Controversy follows the topic of chicken. There is a lot of stigma surrounding this meat, specifically the classification they fall into; free range, organic, conventional, it seems that there is little trust amongst consumers as to what each exactly means.
That’s why we enjoy being able to tell our customers that we know exactly how our chickens are reared as well as having full records of traceability, so we can follow each stage of a chicken’s journey whilst working with a great local producer.
The factors that are taken into consideration when deciding whether to purchase organic or conventional are varied - from believing it is a healthier option, more humane, or more sustainable for the environment. However, the truth of the matter goes much deeper than this.
Conventional farming does not come with the rule that chickens must be free range. This means that they could be reared in a shed with a focus on being business friendly cost effective. Most likely the chickens will be crowded which can lead to increase the risk of disease and if disease if contracted it will spread very quickly through the shed, causing illness or death within the batch of chickens.
For any livestock, it is their instinct to roam freely in an open area - thriving off the nice weather and consuming pasture, even though chickens cannot survive on grass they will peck away for a healthy digestive system. Happy free range chickens are a well-publicised image whilst the conventional reality is that chickens are squeezed into a shed with limited space per chicken, they will be subject to artificial light and minimal ventilation, with the simple purpose of reaching the desired weight as quickly as possible.
The organic way is to provide a free-range area for the chickens to roam, peck on pasture and to be exposed to natural living conditions, all the while feeding them organic feed. We are true believers in the notion that you are not only what you eat, but what you eat eats, too.
All organic producers are forbidden to ‘blanket treat’ any drugs. This is to keep the farming practices natural and bring back traditional farming. The problem within conventional chicken farming is that the birds can not only be treated with antibiotics, but it is incorporated within their feed or water all of the time, whether they have fallen ill or not - a simple way to describe the practice would-be ‘prevention before cure’ – knowing that the majority will need medicine at some point in their lives, as their living conditions incur so much bacterial growth, as they are living ‘unnaturally’.
The Food and Drug Administration require that there is a waiting period between the administration of drugs and the slaughter of the animal to ensure that the drug has passed through the animal and is no longer present when the meat is consumed. However, this still does not change the fact they have been treated with antibiotics and other drugs throughout their entire life. Can we ever be certain that the drug has fully passed through the chicken’s system.
In terms of animal welfare for the organic producers there needs to be a balance between non-drug use but also to have the animal’s welfare at heart, if a chicken is ill and shows no sign of quick natural recovery then the last resort would be to administrate Soil Association approved antibiotics. The protocol that organic chicken producer must abide by when the chicken’s life and wellbeing is being put at risk is to contact the vet who will come and evaluate the problem and provide a solution. The producer will then contact the Soil Association to get the organic medication and application approved. In relation to our chicken farms we are very lucky to be in an idyllic part of the country with a vast amount of open space and great ventilation far away from any other chicken farms.
Organic farming is long and difficult when it comes to producing the perfect product for consumers. Whereas with conventional farming, the chickens are squeezed into a shed with limited space to move around in. With no roaming area, the perfect artificial conditions are provided to force exponential rates of muscle growth, and constant availability of feed will ensure they therefore consume more food than organic chickens who roam freely.
Conventional feed will be a higher concentrated grain feed which includes ingredients such as protein from imported soya beans, which are purposely added to increase their growth rate. This means that they can turn around more batches of chickens which ultimately mean more money. To the contrary organic farming takes its time and does not rush the birds natural growth rate, therefore producing a smaller quantity of birds throughout the year but a better quality product.
Being able to feed conventional chickens a high protein rationed feed to increase growth and consume more food therefore means that the killing age between conventional and organic is substantially different. Conventionally farmed chickens will be killed between 5-7 weeks of age weighing all the same weight, it is important to mention that with organic farming it is very difficult to ensure that all the chickens will achieve the same weight at the same time or at all, as they grow naturally, choosing when and how much food they consume.
The killing age of our organic chickens is 10 weeks. To reiterate, due to organic chickens being able to roam freely, they will consume less food - letting natural growth takes its course. They will also peck at forage on the ground to add to their diet. Remember chickens must be fed a grain diet to survive however it is fully organic, being a mix of simple cereals.
Does Organic Chicken Taste better?
No scientific evidence has ever been published regarding organic chicken tasting better than conventional chicken and we’re sure that if the debate began there would be large levels of support on either side. What we will draw from this blog is that purchasing and consuming organic produce is a lifestyle choice. Even if studies were published in the future suggesting that organic doesn’t taste any better/different than conventional, what is satisfying is knowing that the animals had the best life and their welfare was the farmers top priority, that they are free from drugs, they have been naturally raised. It is also reassuring to know that the process is 100% organic and that Soil Association Organic Certification is monitored, audited, and in our view produces the best results!