Celebrating diversity ~ Grassland Sommerlad Heritage Poultry
This is an inspiring story that never gets old and despite the fact that we've been selling these birds since 2014, we're just as excited about them today as we were nine years ago.
Take a stroll down any supermarket aisle and, although it's hard to know where it all comes from, the overwhelming sensation is that there's an extraordinary range of choice and variety on offer. But if you dig a little deeper, most of that variety is superficial and isolated to highly processed foods. Take chicken for example.
You may know that chicken is Australia's most popular meat and that Australians ate over seven hundred million chickens last year. But I'll bet you didn't know that 99.5% of those birds are from one, single breed, the commercial White Broiler bird.
If genetic diversity is the cornerstone of resilience and vitality in any system, this isn't a statistic that fills me with confidence. Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket!
Selected for it's extraordinary growth rates, the White Broiler raised inside a shed can go from 35 gm to almost 2.0 kg in about 35 days. By comparison, a Sommerlad Heritage chicken, bred to live outside on pasture, takes at least 100 days, about three times longer.
There are many different ways these White Broilers are grown. The majority spend their short lives entirely inside sheds, but a small minority are 'free range' (fixed sheds with access to outdoors), or 'organic' or 'Salatin-style pasture raised' (mobile yards moved around on pasture) or 'pasture raised' (raised entirely free to range on pasture). The more freedom to move and access to pasture, the longer the birds take to grow. But regardless of the production method, all White Broilers are designed to reach market-ready weights within 56 days.
While this is speed of growth is super efficient in terms of protein conversion, there are no free lunches in life, and what is gained by breeding for speed and scale is lost in the quality of animal welfare, flavour and crucial genetic diversity.
Australia's meat chicken industry is an unnatural, genetic monoculture that defies the natural urge toward diversity.
By contrast, Grassland Heritage chickens are a riot of genetic diversity comprised of at least six different breeds that are continuously crossed and paired in a complex and carefully managed breeding programme designed specifically for the highest, sustainable outcomes in animal welfare, resilience, vitality, flavour.
The objective isn't speed or scale, but rather to produce a bird that thrives living outside in as natural a way possible and delivers the most flavoursome, nutritious protein.
So, while Grassland Sommerlad Heritage chickens make up only 0.1% of the entire seven million meat chickens we consumed last year, there is more genetic diversity and vitality in that tiny, riotous, flutter's worth than in the rest of the entire industry combined. A fact that's both wonderful and appalling in equal measure.
Would we put up with it if this lack of choice and narrowing of the genetic pool was echoed in the other foods we buy each day? What if you could only find one variety of lemon or carrot or tomato on the supermarket shelves? Er, right, when you think about it, that's exactly what's happened. The biodiversity and nutritional integrity of the entire food industry has been held hostage by the unsustainable urge for speed and scale.
If we're going to fix this, we need to vote for genetic diversity and transparency and regenerative agriculture at the checkout.
Choose food from and support retailers who can authentically account for what they're selling - what breed or variety it is, where it was grown, how it was grown and by whom, how old it was when processed and how it was transported to the shelf.