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times the size of the indoor area," says Mark. "And
the farms range in size from 4000 to 10,000 acres
(1600 -- 4000ha). We let the birds out once they
get their white feather, which can take between 21
and 28 days.
"The farmers are always encouraging the birds
to be outside so they keep burning energy. We've
introduced play balls with seeds for pecking, dust
baths, which they love, and hay bales for jumping.
They also like to get wet under the sprinklers on
hot days in the summer."
In terms of feed, the birds are only allowed
natural ingredients, which is a standard set by Free
Range Egg and Poultry Australia (FREPA), the
industry's sole governing body.
Mark says the farmers mainly use local grains,
and include probiotics and oregano in the mix to
aid the bird's health.
"We don't use any growth-promoting agents,"
he adds. "And we think that pays dividends with
the taste at the end."
Other standards set by FREPA, which are --
according to Mark -- met and exceeded by the Mt
Barker farmers, state that the bird's roaming range
must have shade, shelter and sustainable palatable
vegetation; the stocking density in the shed must
not exceed 28kg of live birds per square metre of
"We're actually working with the RSCPA to
meet a higher standard than this," says Mark.
"Providing the best possible living conditions for
the birds has always been our top priority."
Interestingly, the chickens -- not unlike shop-
pers -- have a penchant for the familiar.
When the farmers enter the pen each morning,
they try to wear the same coloured clothes so the
birds feel safe in their presence. They also keep to a
particular routine like rustling a bucket or banging
their boots on the floor.
"The chicken like the security of that daily
pattern," Mark says. "It's important to keep their
stress levels as low as possible."
The company farms a breed of chicken called
Ross, a relatively hardy meat bird that's well suited
to outdoor environments.
Harvesting generally occurs between 50 and
58 days, a little longer than conventionally grown
chickens, the primary processing is done in Mount
Barker while the rest of the processing happens in
Mt Barker Free Range Chicken offers consum-
ers a variety of pre-prepared meals; from peri peri
wings and mango curry shanks to jarrah honey
sausages and little rolled roasts.
"We try to cut the meat a bit differently, just to
give the shoppers more options. We're now provid-
ing marinated products which are ready to go on
the barbecue and stir fries which can go straight in
Since the beginning of last year, the company has
also added free-range turkey to its repertoire, a ven-
ture that Mark hopes will see more West Australians
eating the lean white meat on a regular basis.
"Our goal is to introduce turkey into every
West Australian's diet once a week," he says. "At
the moment, the average West Australian eats 1kg
of turkey a year, which is generally at Christmas
time. And interestingly, the average South Austral-
ian eats about 4kg because there was a big turkey
promoter over there encouraging consumption.
"It's a really beautiful meat, and you'd be sur-
prised to know that other parts of the bird -- like
the thigh for instance -- have a completely different
flavour to the breast."
What shows in all Mount Barker Chicken's
products is a commitment to quality, which ulti-
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