Bostock's Organic Free Range Chickens

May 2015

Ben Bostock has begun one of the few organic free range meat chicken farms in New Zealand

Ben Bostock is currently one of the few producers of organic free range meat chickens in the country.  He began production in April 2014, using growing sheds imported from France and slaughter equipment from USA, and the first products were sold in July. The farm is located on organic certified land and uses organic maize and barley grown and milled by the company together with certified fish meal. No antibiotics or GM feeds are used, unlike conventional producers. The company has around 150 customers throughout the country. Production is now 1500 birds per week and is due to be doubled early next year. 

Ben Bostock worked for a time for an Auckland based company buying beef and lamb from NZ suppliers and exporting to various markets. Through a colleague he learned that meat chicken companies in Australia were fully vertically integrated and thus exerted substantial control over the industry.  He was keen to try the same approach to beef and lamb in NZ but realised that there were around 100 potential products from these species and the marketing of all of them would be difficult.  By contrast, meat chickens yield only a handful of products that are far easier to market.

He went overseas to look at the best of organic meat chicken industries.  In the USA he found that their regulations were “a bit Wild West” but saw excellent chicken slaughter and processing equipment.  “I also went to France, where they have one of the most developed organic meat chicken industries in the world, and had a look at their sheds that were mobile, state-of-the-art and custom-built to meet the highest standards,” says Ben.

“The sheds are 120 m² and provide shelter for the chickens, but allow them access outside onto fresh pasture.  They have poly-panel sides and glass wool insulation in the roof and are movable.”  Ben bought 10 of them and had them shipped to New Zealand. They were assembled in April and the first chickens were fully grown by July.

Chickens are processed using equipment imported from the USA and installed in a purpose built abattoir.  Ben worked closely with MPI and consultants to ensure that the premises were fit for purpose and met all food management and food safety standards and requirements.

“Each week we have 1500 chicks coming in from a hatchery in Auckland.  We use the Cobb breed, which is one of the two meat chicken types currently available in NZ and used by conventional growers,” says Ben.

“However, we feed our birds very differently.  We lower the protein content of the feed, so instead of taking four or five weeks to get to kill weight, ours grow for 8 to 10 weeks. We also don’t feed antibiotics – even free range growers use antibiotics.  And we don’t use the imported GM soy bean meal that is the main ingredient in conventional chicken feeds.”

Bostocks grow and formulate their own organic feeds. Maize is grown on 50 hectares of former organic dairy land fertilised with chicken manure and wood shavings that are used as an absorbent product, and composted along with feathers, necks, feet and inedible offals.  The compost is incorporated into the soil during cultivation.

“We are also growing organic barley on various properties around Hastings.  We mill the maize and barley and mix them with organic certified fish meal along with a blend of dried apple skins and pips that comes from my father’s organic orchards,” says Ben.

“The chickens grow well, slower than in non-organic commercial plants, but they are healthier.  The growth rate we achieve is faster than in the United States where it takes about 17 weeks, and this is mainly a function of breed.”

When they reach their final weight, chickens are picked up at night (while they are roosting) and taken to the nearby processing plant.  There, 10 staff process 400 birds per day. Half are sold whole and the rest are cut up into portions.  Customers number about 150 all around New Zealand, including supermarkets or niche stores in most towns.

Once a growing shed is empty, it is fully washed down, cleaned and shifted to fresh pasture to prevent the spread of diseases.

Ben emphasises that the business is a farm rather than a factory and rather than operating in secrecy, he is happy for people to see how the chickens are raised.  He also says that the business is scalable and that demand is strong.

“We could sell double our current production, so we are doubling our flock size and certifying more land, and more sheds are arriving in January 2015.  We plan to have them in production by March,” he says.  “And because we don’t have any organic free range breeds in New Zealand, we plan to import some slower-growing birds that are used for free range farming in Europe.”