Free-range Labelling in South Africa: No harm, no ‘fowl’?

To get clarification on the subject, I consulted Lara Wybrow from Ethical Suppliers South Africa. The expert stresses that in respect to South Africa’s red meat industry there are free-range protocols as monitored by SAMIC. These differ just like poultry from supplier to supplier. If you look at  Spier’s Free Range Protocol and compare them with Woolworths specifications, you will see that they are different. Whereas Spier’s is quite detailed, Woolworths only talks about the five freedoms.

 Nonetheless, Wybrow remains confident about the future. It’s a step into the right direction for her. She believes that the consumer interest will increase the animal welfare standards as time progresses. From her perspective, anything is better than feedlots, battery hen systems and pigs and other animals being kept indoors 24/7, never seeing grass, mud, the sun or fresh air. Nonetheless, she is especially concerned about the low standards for free-range chicken farming.

She says that the main difference between the two (free-range and non) is the amount of chickens allowed per square meter. “With free-range they need access to an outside pasture area. But the problem is that because of overcrowded conditions, sometimes the chickens don’t go outside anyway as they are too scared to leave the food and water because they have to fight their way back. Or the doors are too small so the chickens don´t even know there is an outside area! I know this sounds strange but it´s true.”

Her main concern is that there´s only a draft bill on free-range regulations so suppliers and farmers are free to interpret it the way they want. She works with farmers on a daily basis, so I asked her about her experiences.

“I have come across many farmers who think free-range means anything as long as they are not in cages. But they have hugely overcrowded poultry sheds and the chickens never go outside. Chickens need to go outside in a large pasture area where there is sand, grass and shade which farmers often don’t provide. This in turn prevents chickens from roaming outside. Simply keeping them fed and giving them water and shelter is not enough.”

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Firstly, this is not a massive investment fund. This is my personal initiative and is funded by me, I already fund all the costs related to Ethical Suppliers and Open Education Centre. This initiative is really for the poorest of the poor who have practically nothing and need a helping hand to get somewhere.  

I used to be a chicken and pecan nut farmer a few years ago and had to quit because of family issues with the property. So yes, I have experience in farming, as well as an education site for farmers, Open Education Centre

From a little seed we can grow big things. Nature has all the means by which we can grow our money and farming is a way to do this while at the same time providing food for families and communities. 

I will buy most of the starter stock eg seeds and chicks, saplings, and so on. Watering costs will not be covered but we will try reduce water consumption as far as possible with the use of mulch and other methods to keep costs down. 

You will need to fetch the stock from the supplier if I cannot have it delivered, prepare the earth, sow the seed, water/irrigate and generally manage all day to day operations. If you are in Pretoria I will assist with the manual labour.

For the chicken farm you will need to construct a simple roosting perch from sticks and a simple hut with a basic door which can close at night. This can all be done with wood and salvaged materials. No floor needed, sand floors are best and I will explain why later. Eggs need to be collected daily and a small percentage of the eggs need to be marked and  left in their clutches in the hope that broody hens will hatch them out. We are trying to breed broodiness back in as this is in accordance with natural and humane principles. 

Once the operation turns profitable and I have recouped 200% of my total investment I will withdraw.

Remember – this is NOT a get rich quick scheme, this is only for individuals who share the same principles of ethical, eco friendly and humane farming. Profits will only start coming in after a few months, sometimes even up to a year or two, it all depends on what we are farming. 

Think about ways that you can “pay it forward”, eg seed donations etc, because this principle is extremely important. 

If all this excites you and you want to be part of the group please continue the application process below. I know it is long and tedious but I really want to get to know you a little better as we will be working closely together and I want to make sure we are a good fit :) 

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