Harry Irwin has been rearing free-range British chicken for Tesco for more than 10 years. We caught up with Harry and his colleague, Anna Rountree on one of their farms. Here's what they had to say:
We buy our chicks from the hatchery when they’re a day old. As they don’t have many feathers to begin with, we start them off in purpose-built houses, where it’s nice and warm, for up to 28 days. The chicks are weighed on their ‘birthday’ each week. So if they arrive on a Tuesday they are weighed every Tuesday for the rest of their life to check that they’re healthy and gaining weight.
Inside the house they have access to fresh water and food 24-7. We also give them perches and pecking objects, such as shiny discs and wooden blocks to encourage natural behaviours, and provide straw bales so that they can jump, play and exercise. It’s fantastic to watch them – they’re very happy chickens!
Our free-range chickens spend more than half their life outdoors. When they reach 28 days, we open the pop-holes, so they can go in and out of the house. We encourage the chickens to explore outdoors by providing a combination of trees and man-made shelters. On a windy day, they tend to look out from the veranda. When it’s sunny, they like the shade of the trees.
We know every ingredient that goes into our chickens’ feed. Their diets are formulated by a team of nutritionists, who ensure the birds get what they need at each stage of life. For the first four weeks they’re fed a wheatbased diet in a crumb form. As the chickens get older, we switch to a slightly larger pellet. Then, at 28 days, Finest birds move on to a corn-based diet, which contains 50% maize (for Home on the range extra succulence).
Our free-range chickens are slow-growing and enjoy an active, low-stress life. We’ve selected a breed, such as the Hubbard, that is better suited to an outdoor lifestyle. Hubbard chickens enjoy ranging and are naturally inquisitive. Outside, they have access to fresh pastures where they can indulge in natural behaviours, such as foraging, grazing, dust-bathing and socialising. The combination of a longer, more active life helps to produce a flavoursome bird with a meatier texture.
The last decade has seen a huge change in chicken farming. When we set up 10 years ago, demand for free-range was in its infancy. We’ve gone from rearing 50,000 free-range chickens a week to about 150,000 birds. People are more aware of where their food comes from and we’ve seen a rise in sales of whole free-range birds for a special treat, such as Sunday roasts.
Rearing free-range chicken is a sustainable system. The by-products are used as well as the chickens. The litter and manure from each flock is transported to a power station to produce electricity. We also don’t use any fertiliser, herbicides or pesticides so we have a low-impact on the environment.
The Tesco Chicken Standard is one of the toughest standards in the industry. It’s a combination of all the chicken standards, from RSPCA to Red Tractor, and covers every aspect of a chicken’s life. Tesco also use an independent party to monitor their farms and carry out regular, spot-check inspections.
Our farmers have to adhere to strict legislation. Tesco chicken farms are covered by the Government's animal health scheme, and every flock is audited. The farm is also under the environmental scheme.
You have to be passionate about animals to work here. It’s not a typical nine-to-five job where you can just switch off; you’re always thinking about your chickens. No matter what day it is, we're always here.
All of our chickens are 100% traceable. We can trace every single chicken back to the farm and house where it was reared and even as far back as the hatchery and breeder farm.
We’re very proud of the free-range British chicken we produce for Tesco. Customers are actively choosing to buy free-range British chicken when they can, because they know it’s been reared well and has a superb flavour and great texture. As one of the leanest meats available to buy, our free-range chicken makes a delicious and healthy family meal at any time of the year.
- are reared to a legal minimum of 56 days
- have access to outdoor runs for at least half their life
- are grown at lower density
- grow more slowly than conventional chickens
FROM 1 JULY 2013, ALL OF TESCO’ S FRESH CHICKEN WILL BE 100% BRITISH**
* Free range stats are taken from Marketing Standards for poultry meat.
** Excludes breaded chicken.
As featured in the Real Food Magazine June/July 2013.