Local Food Hero – Free the Chickens

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How free is free range really?

Consumers who care about good quality and ethically produced food are naturally sceptical about the label ‘free range’ these days. The commercial definitions of free range are disappointing, often only a bit better than factory farming practices.

Bridget Ringdahl is passionate about animal rights and regularly frees some hens from their cramped lives in battery egg operations to retire in her Howick garden. At one year old, these hens are deemed not to be producing efficiently and are discarded – sold or culled. In Bridget’s experience they can live for many years more and do keep laying eggs besides there being no artificial inducements to do so – like hormone charged feed or bright lights to fool them into thinking it is summer. “There is no pressure to lay at the Ladies Retreat at Number 15 Miller Street” laughs Bridget, “I simply want them to be able to enjoy life as a chicken should – pecking at greenery, scratching for worms, devouring snails, stretching their wings and having dust baths.” They always seem to have no chest and neck feathers when they arrive – perhaps from sticking their heads through the wire cages – but quickly recover. Bridget has built them a charming cottage under the trees (chickens originate from Asian forests) and they wander happily about her garden in the afternoons after any eggs have been collected. “We get plenty of eggs for our needs and are happy to go without when necessary.” she adds.

Gill Addison too is horrified at conditions in the factory farms across the Midlands (there are 26 million chickens living like this in South Africa) and purchases a few feathered girls to join her farmyard often. “It is fascinating that they remember how to be real chickens as soon as they touch the ground, despite having spent their entire life in a cage” she says, “Scratching in the soil, sunbathing and ducking when big birds fly overhead. It is an absolute joy to watch them relish their freedom and even trying their hands at brooding.”

Bridget and Gill are part of a growing band of compassionate eaters who believe chickens are great company and have a few living in their homes and gardens. If you would rather buy eggs for breakfast, really free range eggs are available at Café Bloom, Apple Café and local farmers markets.

Learn more at: www.animal-voice.org

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