Back in 2015 when we launched Coombe Farm Organic, we started by rearing our own beef and lamb. We introduced pigs to the farm in 2018 and Christmas geese last year. Now we are so pleased to announce that moving forwards all our organic chicken will be reared here on the farm in Somerset too, having partnered previously with a trusted organic farmer in Pembrokeshire. Now we have full control of the process from field to fork, reducing our food miles too. We have two chicken sheds with a 700 bird capacity, nestled in a beautiful 60-acre pasture near one of our dairy farms.
As with all organic animals, our birds are free to roam, satisfying their natural instincts by rooting in the dirt, taking dust baths and eating the grubs and grit from the soil. Organic means farming in a way that aims to support our whole food system, and so the birds will play a key role in helping to fertilise the land they roam on. We will regularly rotate the position of the shed and grazing grounds to give the chickens fresh grass to graze, planting nitrogen-fixing crops back in those locations to ensure we can eke out all the goodness from the manure they leave in the fields.
We caught up with farming manager Ryan Sloman-Brown to find out more -
Are the chickens completely organic?
The chickens are 100% organic. Under the current Soil Association standards, chicks can be taken from a conventional system providing they are less than 3 days old and reared organically to 70 days. We wanted to go one step further to stay true to our ethos in supporting other organic producers, so we source our chicks from an organic breeding flock meaning they are certified from birth. We never use antibiotics on our chickens because our organic farming system provides a natural environment for our birds to thrive without the need for preventative medication: room to roam, a naturally foraged balanced diet, clean water and high hygiene standards.
What are they fed?
Our chickens are fed an organic diet, free from GM ingredients, suitable to their slow-growing conditions. It is a mix of UK-grown organic corn, organic soya and organic maize. Unlike more intensive systems which require a heavy protein ratio to force speedier growth, we have reduced the protein ration to mimic a more natural diet. You will notice that the chicken has a much deeper yellow colour than the pale, white meat you find in supermarkets due to the increase in corn ratio.
As the chickens are free to roam organic pasture, they help themselves to grass, worms, clover and other grubs which results in a healthy active bird. It is important to note that chickens cannot survive on grass alone, so the combination of organic cereals and grass gives them all the energy and protein they need to stay healthy. They also eat grit in the soil such as sand and small stones which helps with their digestion and builds a strong natural immunity system.
Do they have any enrichments to keep them busy?
Outdoors we create natural shade with foraged twigs and branches from the surrounding trees and hedges, which also provide protection from birds of prey. Their favourite activities are chasing flies and having natural dust baths in the dirt. When the birds are housed in the evening to protect them from predators, they have perches to naturally roost on and straw bedding to rummage in. Coloured balls and recycled CDs hang from the ceiling, and the chicks love to chase the light that is reflected across the shed.
How long are they reared for?
The chickens are grown slowly for approximately 70 days. In intensive systems, which rely heavily on genetic breeding, high protein (often GM) foods and antibiotics, birds are ready at just 35 days. We believe this much slower approach is better for the welfare of our birds, and results in the delicious flavour you can try for yourself.
Where are the birds slaughtered?
At Coombe Farm, we consider the end-of-life process to be just as important in maintaining the highest standards of welfare; therefore a humane slaughter is essential practice. We use a small on-farm poultry processing centre just a 30-minute drive from the farm, to minimise stress as much as possible and maximise respect for the animal’s life. Every bird is carefully stunned prior to slaughter.
What is the flavour like?
We believe you can noticeably taste the difference with a Coombe Farm chicken. From a succulent and juicy texture to the rich depth of flavour - our chickens taste like chickens used to. Everything from the feed, the lifestyle and the care paid to our birds results in unbelievably delicious meat. You will notice that our meat is more yellow than you may be used to, this is the result of the slow-growing diet (with a lower protein ration and more cereals like corn) and a sure sign of excellent quality.
Find our more about our organic chickens here.