One of Tasmania's largest poultry producers, Nichols, has recently launched a new ethical free range chicken product line. The birds are housed in 'villages' of four movable sheds each housing 720 birds (a much lower density than the thousands housed in one shed under other poultry production systems) and they are free to come and go from the sheds as they please.
I had the opportunity to have a look inside last week on a field trip. While it is still a little shocking to see so many birds living such short lives, the conditions were clean and spacious, the feeding and watering stations looked great and many of the birds were enjoying themselves resting outside the sheds or pecking in the grass and mud. The large, green paddock we visited contained four of these chook 'villages'. Check out the video on their web site to see it for yourself.
While at present the ethical free range product represents less than 10 percent of the chicken they produce (the rest is barn raised under the RSPCA standard), it is hoped that customer demand will grow and production can expand. It's good reason for us Aussies to eat a bit less chicken and be happy to pay a bit more for it, I reckon. I'll be checking out our local supermarkets to see who stocks it.