Elgin – South-Africa’s largest producer of Free-Range Chicken

Supplier of Woolworths Free-Range chicken

Elgin Free Range Chickens was founded by Jeanne Groenewald and has been operating since 1997. They have an average of 768,000 chickens at any one time spread over their seven farms which are located in the Overberg area in the Western Cape.

Elgin has their own abattoir in Grabouw where they slaughter 130,000 chickens per week.

What is the definition of ‘free range’ in South Africa?

The term “free range” may conjure up images for the consumer of an animal living in wide open spaces able to roam freely about and eating natural foods but locally, the legal application of the term is rather limited.

These South African regulations do not specify any details about the “continuous daytime access” to outside which means that there are no industry guidelines and the rule has the potential to be abused.

Elgin Free Range Chickens informed TOPIC (Testing of Products Initiated by Consumers) that no government department currently monitors or audits free range farming in South Africa. Two of TOPIC SA team members visited one of the Elgin Free Range Chickens’ farms in Caledon on the 3rd of June.

,Photos from TOPIC’s farm visit to Elgin

Elgin reported that they purchase the broiler chicks when they are a day old and they are immediately placed in their chicken sheds. The shed we observed was 15m wide by 135m long and housed 32,000 birds (see pictures above). This shed had a total of 45 popholes spaced 3m apart on both sides for the chickens to access the outside area. The popholes are 3m wide by 0.75m high and were open. Elgin told them that they are then closed again at night and in bad weather. As their visit was in winter, it was a cold day and despite the pop-holes being open, most of the 14 day old birds were huddled inside together for warmth.

This shed had a size-matching 15m wide by 135m long outside area that was covered in shade cloth to offer the chickens protection from predators and wild birds. This is Elgin’s new design idea that they are starting to implement and told them they will be rolling out for all their sheds in the future. On the other side of the shed, the pop-holes opened onto another free range area which was uncovered and allowed the birds to range even further.

Photos supplied by Elgin Free Range Chickens of the birds accessing the outside areas in warmer weather.

Regular farm inspections and auditing

All seven of the farms that are raising chickens for Elgin Free Range Chickens are audited by an independent company, which is a Woolworths initiative, and is conducted on a bi-annual and unannounced basis. Elgin Free Range Chickens also conducts internal audits by certified auditors as part of supplier control to the ISO 22000:2005 Food Safety Management system and regular unannounced farm visits are conducted by the Agricultural Manager, the MD and CEO of the Elgin Free Range Chickens, and the group’s veterinarian. http://topicsa.org.za/blog/elgin-free-range-chickens/

Our comments:

Free-range broilers are, like other broilers, bred for such high meat production that the birds are unable to move about freely even if they want to. Crippling, painful skeletal deformities is usually the product of genetic manipulation that drastically increase breast and thigh tissue and produce a very rapid growth rate that outstrips the development of their legs.

Majority of these chickens never make it to the outside due to their under developed legs that are unable to carry them, which is why you won’t see a single chicken in these images running around. They are either barely standing on their feet or simply lying down.

Elgin Free Range Chickens was founded by Jeanne Groenewald

Can we allow ourselves to look inward with humility and recognize our own arrogance – a mindset that views nature and all other beings as tools to be used for our benefit? It is the antithesis of what we need to learn; that our true self interest aligns with the health of our ecosystem. By manipulating nature, we are destroying our ecosystem.

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