Helping farmers put real health on our plates

Chicken Goes Cheep or Cheap?


The original “cheep” is a smile-evoking sound if you have ever had the pleasure of hatching eggs in an incubator. What is beautiful, but also surprising for the uninitiated, is that the cheeping starts before the chick has hatched. Chicks hatched in the natural way, under a hen, emerge in spring – the original ‘spring chicken’! This excellent timing makes use of natural long days and bountiful food.

You’ll be familiar with the tradition of a poultry Christmas dinner.  Turkey is merely a fad pinched from the Americas. Traditionally in this country it was always a goose for the well off and a spring chicken grown into a stout cockerel for the lucky masses.

The time taken from ‘spring chicken’ to festive roast should be around 9 to 10 months or nearly 300 days and those old-fashioned birds scratched and scrapped around the farmyard picking at a range of delicacies; worms and woodlouse, grit and greenery. This healthy diet all built them towards a lean-meat, tasty, once in a year, lip-smacking celebratory meal. It also means that they accumulated all sorts of nutrients in their bodies which serve us well in our healthy broths and meat.

Contrast that lifestyle with today’s ‘cheap’ chicken, housed all its life in a computer-controlled environment; a shed as big as a football field. The same boring manufactured feed day, in day out. Jammed beside thousands, possibly 40 thousand other chickens; eating, drinking, growing, eating drinking, growing, eating, drinking, growing, eating, drinking, growing monotonously. Perhaps this truncated lifespan, the short 45-day life of a modern chick the only blessing. Quite aside from the misery inflected on these poor animals, what nourishment do you suppose they serve us?

How is it then, that the reputation of the long-lived athletic farmyard bird for yielding healthy fat free white meat has somehow stuck, while all features of its health-giving lifestyle have been stolen? See the infographics from Eat Better which shows a huge increase in fat content 30 years, let alone the last 130 years. Plus a decrease in mineral and essential fatty acid content.  The point is, if you change the lifestyle of our farm animals, you change the end result, multiply up the numbers and inevitably standards fall. The modern chicken dinner may be cheap, but you have been robbed; of taste, nutritional value and authenticity… and the chicken was robbed of a life!

Proud Maran mother hen with her chicks
Photo credit: Pammy Riggs, Providence Farm

Compare this proud Maran mother hen with her chicks and the intensive chicks below.  No comparison!

Factory Chickens
Credit: Branex –

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Pammy Riggs is a well-respected figure in the farming and food industry having run the highly successful Providence Farm in Devon for over 20 years with her husband Ritchie, where they established their Positive Health Management System. The farm’s produce, and Pammy herself, won numerous awards including Organic Business Person of the Year. Pammy has taught a variety of courses around the UK, including the poultry–keeping course at River Cottage and is a published author, blogger and columnist. What Pammy doesn’t know about chooks isn’t worth knowing!

Pammy Riggs

About the author: I’m Pammy, a farmer of many years who teachers courses, and writes about farming, animals, and much more!

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