Too chicken for free range?

How much are you prepared to pay for chicken? This was the question going through my mind earlier while I was in the supermarket. I stood browsing by the poultry aisle watching the shoppers, some buying battery farm chicken, others picking up some free range chuck at almost twice the price.

The issue has been getting a lot of coverage thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s programme Chicken Run. The foppish chef is trying to persuade people to buy free range, and supermarkets and restaurants to promote it by highlighting the miserable life battery chickens lead.

Now, while I’m on a mission to live frugally, this is a subject that pulls on my heart strings given DJ and I keep our own hens, Thelma, Molly & Lexi. They are primarily pets but they also produce a mountain of eggs that we enjoy eating and give away to friends. We have witnessed first hand how much chickens enjoy having space to roam and act out their natural behaviour.


Naturally chickens enjoy running about the garden – our three are surprisingly fast runners! – digging for tasty worms, sunbathing (admittedly they don’t do it much right now!) and enjoying a dust bath. And they are such characters. It was DJ’s idea to get chickens two years ago – I thought he was nuts but he talked me round. Being totally ignorant, I couldn’t imagine chickens had personalities like cats, but soon it was pretty clear they do. Thelma is very bossy and sits on my lap when we’re sitting out on the patio. She has been known to steal mince pies, cat food and, even more disgustingly, a bacon sandwich I was enjoying al fresco.

So, it was pretty depressing to see those poor devils being reared by Hugh in darkness, with no access to outdoors and fed so much that they could barely move. Actually I couldn’t actually bear to watch them being slaughtered, and cowardly hid upstairs with a book while DJ, who has a stronger stomach, watched it.

Of course, the fate of battery egg laying birds, as opposed to ones bred for meat, can be even worse. Often they are kept in tiny cages where they lay their eggs, with not much more room than an A4 sheet of paper. These chickens can’t carry out their normal behaviour. And many of them lose their feathers. It sounds bizarre, but people who rehabilitate battery chickens often have to dress them in jumpers to keep them warm until their feathers grow back…! Check out the Battery Hen Welfare Trust for more info…

When you’re shopping it’s a real dilemma. Do you buy the cheap chicken breasts or pay extra for free range? I’m not brave enough to become vegetarian although I admire anyone with the will power. But while saving money is important, is it worth us having cheap caged eggs or chicken bred in misery which tastes of nothing, when for an extra few pounds you can have better tasting produce from chickens who lived happier, healthier lives? Anyone who tries our girls’ eggs always comments on the improved taste and the strong, almost orange yoke. There’s simply no comparison.

I don’t mean to get on a soap box– plenty of families on the bread line probably feel they can’t afford free range chicken – but I think it’s something worth thinking hard about it. DJ is writing letters to send to our local restaurants asking them to offer free range chicken on the menu, and I am going to sign them too.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know. Meanwhile enjoy watching the girls in action!



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4 Responses to Too chicken for free range?

  1. Old says:

    You can live frugally by getting the best value out of the best quality food you can afford – and if that includes a free range chicken which is a bit dearer, but giving better quality meat – coz it\’s been reared better – and then maximising the yield fromn that chicken – i.e maximising the meat you get off it then making stock and soup with carcas you\’re being frugal.  Huge Furry Overall\’s progam was a thought provoking one – maybe hit its aim by making us think about where our food comes from and how it gets to us. Have always liked the idea of quality food and in a restraunt always like to see the source of ingredients , mainly meat, listed.

  2. snaggletooth says:

    Becoming a veggy isn\’t as hard as you\’d think, it just takes some adjusting. My advice, if you want to try it, is just give it a month or so and see if it\’s for you. You\’ll soon find out if you can do it. I did a blog on HF-W\’s programme the other day, he\’s very passionate about where food comes from, but as you say, not everyone can afford free range. He did show how much you can get from a chicken if you try though!

  3. Tattyhousehastings says:

    I reckon you have to think about doing the right thing, how awful if you looked back on your life, and said well I just did that (encouraged battery farming) so I could save a bit of money to spend on wine/haircuts/heating. Do the right thing. And if you did decide to go over to our Veggie side, promise you its v. easy once you get used to it.

  4. C.M says:

    When petrol prices hit the £1 a litre mark last year motorists and hauliers were understandably outraged. However, the price of diesel went through the £1 a litre mark a long time ago, and has showed no sign of falling since. The national average price diesel currently stands at 109.3p per litre, less than 1p away from £5 a gallon. This time last year these pump prices were unthinkable, but today 43% of petrol stations nationwide are selling at, or above, £5 a gallon – we are fast approaching an era where this is the norm. How has this happened?As little as 10 years ago, diesel and unleaded petrol were the same price – 63.3p per litre. Thanks to a combination of inflation, exorbitant tax and rising world oil prices, we can only dream of the days when fuel was that cheap, but it raises an important question – why is diesel more expensive than petrol today? Also, in the majority of European countries diesel is cheaper than petrol, so why do UK motorists have to pay more?Diesel cars became popular in the 1970s thanks to their economical and environmental benefits, but with diesel headed towards £5 a gallon, perhaps diesel users will be forced to rethink the switch, and consider whether or not they really are saving money. 10 years ago a diesel car doing an average of 40mpg, driving 9000 miles a year, would have cost £647.55 to run. Today the cost is a whopping £1125 – leaving a typical diesel motorist £477.45 out of pocket per year, compared to 10 years ago.For haulage companies, who use much more fuel, the continually rising diesel prices leave them with an even bigger financial gap to bridge. Many are left with no choice but to pass the extra costs on to their customers, so as the price of diesel goes up, the cost of transporting food and other essential goods goes up too. Any further increases in the price of diesel could trigger the end of cheap food in the UK.For once, government tax is not to blame for making diesel more expensive than petrol. Both types of fuel are subject to a fixed rate duty of around 50p per litre, plus another 17.5% VAT on top of the price of the fuel and the duty added together. Although it explains why the government collects extra tax from motorists when the price of oil forces increases at the pump, it doesn\’t help to explain why diesel is more expensive than petrol. There are two main explanations for high diesel prices, aside from instability in the oil markets. Firstly, diesel prices in particular often peak over the winter because it is very similar to the fuel used in a lot of British central heating systems. As demand goes up, the oil companies can charge more, and the cost gets passed down the supply chain, to drivers. This happens every year, but with an extra 983,000 diesel cars sold in the UK\’s in 2007 alone, relying on diesel to oil our infrastructure could leave us in a very vulnerable position.The second reason is only exacerbated by our dual reliance on diesel. The UK used to get a lot of its diesel from refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, but as production has slowed, the demand for the available diesel has shot up. In short, there is less diesel available from the UK\’s traditional supplies to fuel more cars and more central heating systems than ever before. Could this be a taste of what is to come when the last drop of oil finally dries up?The government can\’t be held responsible for supply and demand in the energy markets, but they do have the power to ease the financial burden on those who use diesel by cutting tax on fuel. We rely on diesel lorries to transport essential goods around the country, and the world, so surely a tax cut for diesel vehicles would be good for the economy? Tax on both petrol and diesel in the UK is extortionate, and as world markets change it becomes clear that policies that might have made economic sense 10 years ago are in desperate need of an overhaul.We allowed petrol prices to break through the £1 a litre barrier, and they have continued to rise ever since. The arrival of £5 a gallon diesel should be ringing alarm bells for motorists, but instead of standing up and using our democratic power to force Gordon Brown to address the situation, we close our eyes at the pumps and blindly hand over our credit cards. And if this cowardly behaviour continues we\’ll be approaching £6 a gallon before we know it.Is diesel too expensive? Should there be a tax cut for diesel? Or should we be trying to reduce our dependence on diesel altogether?

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