Free range chooks – the food chain pecking order

“All you gotta do is get a free range chicken. It doesn’t matter how you get it, buy it or hunt it down with a knife. All that matters is that you treat the animal with respect.”  Christopher Walken

Trust me there are a lot of great reasons why chooks should not be free-range

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Free Range chooks live the rural idyll at Clover Hill

I love (d) my chooks and have had them for five years now and it broke my heart to see them penned up. Once they had experienced life beyond the chook house they would look up at me with their sad eyes and run to the gate to be let out.

This time last year I had 30 chooks (and a lot of eggs I couldn’t eat)

I had this many chooks because I just love chickens and could bear to take the eggs away from the brooding mothers ( I’d go broke fast if I had commercial chooks)

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I had favourites

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This gorgeous little thing and her identical twin sister are (were) a cross between a peking/silkie rooster and a silkie hen

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They were so soft and gentle and you could pick them up and cuddle them and they had a great time in the garden. – dig dig digging

But the rural idyll was short lived and over the last 12 months the foxes and the Goshawks have taken every single one and I have shed a lot of tears and felt very guilty about their demise

Dead Rooster Killed by Fox 

Now its one thing to have pets that produce enough eggs for you and your family ( and the whole street if you are like me)  and another thing entirely to have animals that feed the masses   

So now that Woolies have bought into the ‘caged vs free range’ trend lets take a look at some proven facts

Firstly let’s look at it from a sustainability level. Whilst free range egg production systems may improve the welfare ( that word with so many definitions) of laying hens, these systems on average emit 20% more carbon dioxide and use 25% more land per kg of product.

Secondly let’s look at that word ‘welfare’. Welfare includes factors such as whether hens are free to move; whether the system allows them to engage in behaviours that are normal for hens; whether they are protected from disease, injury, and predators; whether food and water are available in the appropriate amounts and type, and are of high quality; and whether the hens are handled properly.

Obviously maintaining good welfare within housing systems usually involves trade-offs.

For me my desire to watch my chooks have fun in my garden was much greater than my focus on their survival ( and the guarantee that I would have eggs)

In the commercial world for example housing systems that allow hens to perform natural behaviours (e.g., nest building for laying hens) may, in fact, result in more challenges for disease and injury control. Conversely, improving disease and injury control by more intensively confining hens can limit the hens’ freedom of movement and ability to engage in normal behaviours

Here it is in table format found here

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A Comparison of Cage and Non-Cage Systems for Housing Laying Hens

No matter which way you look at its complicated See “Fewer hens doesn’t always mean happier hens’ and in a country where consumers are in the main only interested in cost and convenience I shudder to think what it will cost egg producers to meet Woolworth’s criteria and what will happen to egg production in this country if Woolworths don’t pass those costs onto consumers.

Back to me and my seriously dwindling companion animals.  I have decided fish are the go. As it turns out I have a ready made fish pond in the rainforest section of my garden.

Rainforest garden

All it needed was to clean out the filter and change the water (and most probably add some wire to keep out the birds – the food chain can be a scary place to be) .

Fish Pond

As it turned out it was full of tadpoles so I will wait for them undergo the metamorphosis  into frogs (most likely in my area green tree frogs) and then I will be the person who keeps fish 

Frog pond

and In reality my chooks had a wonderful life albeit short life in paradise.

To quote Lenore Skenazy 

“You don’t remember the times your dad held your handle bars. You remember the day he let go.”

And if you need a good laugh like I do when I think about my chooks then this will really make your day – courtesy of Christopher Walken