Behind the Scenes at Southampton
Last week I headed south to Balingup to meet up with Jeff and Michelle from Southampton Homestead, and the awesome crew from Guru Productions who filmed an episode for Your State on a Plate, fully dedicated to Jeff and Michelle’s pasture-raised chicken.
This was such a great opportunity to get the news out about the things we really care about - Jeff and Michelle’s story, their partnership with Dirty Clean Food, the importance of an on-farm micro abattoir, the happy, healthy life led by pasture raised chickens, and the most noticeable difference - the premium flavour and eating quality of pasture raised chicken.
Here are some of the topics we discussed behind the scenes, and how Jeff and Michelle describe their farming system.
So Jeff, what is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative farming mimics or harnesses the natural and intelligent living systems and sunlight to restore soils, and therefore ecosystems. Biodiversity at every scale is the result, from bacteria and insects to plants and animals. It is this complexity that produces nutrient dense foods that we need to be healthy.
Why does Southampton Homestead farm this way?
Humans have been farming regeneratively for thousands of years. We only got side-tracked by farming industrially and using chemical herbicides and pesticides in the last 70 years. It is well-established that this has severely impacted the natural environment, threatening our ability to produce food in the future. When I looked at this context, I decided I wanted to do something about it. After 40 years of Pine cultivation, Southampton’s natural environment and pastures were badly degraded. I decided that the most important thing I wanted to do was to learn how to grow food and grow soil. And I decided I wasn’t going to save the world, but rather, just save this one small valley. And it has worked!
What is Pasture Raised Chicken, and how does it differ from commercial chicken?
Pasture-raised chicken literally means that the chickens are raised outside, in mobile shelters and moved onto fresh paddock grass every day. They have access to insects, soil, diverse pastures, and sunshine. We feed them a fermented grain mix as well. They spend the first three weeks in a brooder shed, as they can’t yet regulate their own temperature, once they are fully feathered and can do that they then “graduate” onto pasture.
Pasture-raised is different to almost all other chicken produced in WA, which is in large sheds, producing volumes of hundreds of thousands per batch. Some of these systems allow the chickens access to the outdoors (which is what ‘free range’ means) however there is usually limited pasture if these sheds are stationary and not moveable, which means the birds have access to bare dirt rather than actively growing green pasture.
Ours is a lower intensity production system, we think it’s better for the animals, they are still protected from weather and predators and as a result of this system, they are slower growing.
We find this usually means more flavour and great texture, and really rich in colour as well, especially the leg meat. We love hearing stories from our older customers who grew up eating farm-raised chicken - about “how it reminds them of what chicken used to taste like”. There are some studies that also refer to pasture raised chicken as more nutritious and higher in some vitamins.
How are Dirty Clean Food and Southampton Homestead working together?
Dirty Clean Food and Southampton have been working together since 2020, and along with a small group of growers, we provide a weekly supply of fresh chicken to their online delivery customers, selected restaurants and an IGA. We have also partnered with Dirty Clean to improve our micro-abattoir facility and fully enclose the whole complex, expand the rooms and improve efficiency and functionality.
The partnership has been a great way to introduce regeneratively grown food to more people and an opportunity for the public to support and get to know those farmers.
What are the benefits of an on-farm micro abattoir?
In 1994, there were 54 on-farm micro-abattoirs processing animals for farming communities across the Southwest. By 2004, there were none remaining. This trend continues today with the very limited options for small farms as a result of flawed public policy creating just a few large corporate abattoirs. This meant that we were unable to farm chickens, as we couldn’t access approved facilities to harvest them. We decided we were going to provide that market access, for ourselves and others, by establishing this artisanal facility. Since that time, we have now supported six new poultry farmers to also access the market. The benefits of this facility is that it gives the WA community a choice, both farmers and eaters.
From an animal welfare perspective, it is an infinitely more compassionate facility. The birds arrive here and are handled by people, with the harvest being conducted entirely by hand. Each bird is thanked and this work carried out respectfully by our small team. The level of attention also enables a superior level of hygiene and food safety through this handling and inspection.
It is definitely more labour intensive. But this facility is also about regenerating rural communities and rural economic webs. It is about bringing people back to the regions, through employment and farming opportunities.
Sometimes the whole journey of how your food gets to your plate can be convoluted, and it’s not always transparent. We want to change that. We think people want to know where their food came from, and know their farmer – and we are excited to be just one of many farmers able to do that.
Dirty Clean Food loves working with Jeff and Michelle. Please stay tuned in our newsletter and on our socials for the airing of the story on State on a Plate! We can't wait.