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!