How Nichols Poultry is Redefining the Ethical Free Range Standard

Rob Nichols’ take on chicken farming is a splendid culmination of tradition and innovation.

Rob’s family settled in Sassafras in Tasmania’s north west after emigrating from the UK in 1982. After working with vegetable, poppy and cereal crops, the Nichols returned to what Rob’s grandfather had started at the beginning of the century: poultry farming.

Things quickly took flight and a stalwart of Tasmanian producers was born. Nichols chickens are plump, sweet and make a delectable Sunday roast. When you understand the Nichols Poultry process, it’s easy to understand why.

“In recent years the industry has started to turn full circle with a growing number of discerning customers starting to question the production systems used in chicken production,” says Rob.

“When my grandfather started in poultry in the early 1900’s, birds were kept in small flocks and had easy access to free range. Modern broiler farming systems do not lend themselves to free range readily and so we have looked back to these earlier systems for inspiration as to how to encourage birds to range better.

Just what does free range mean?

“Our Ethical Free Range system has been developed to encourage birds to grow a little slower, live a little longer and range a whole lot further. Our small transportable sheds ensure that birds have fresh pasture and ample access to range. This system would be more familiar to my grandfather than it is to me but the results we are seeing have been very rewarding with birds living a true free range lifestyle as the label describes.”

Complementing this traditional method of farming is contemporary technology: in 2008 Rob installed a wind turbine to generate 50% renewable energy for the production. Rob says the approach has been adopted elsewhere, and is leading to far more ethical, sustainable industry practice. He’s also hopeful it’ll deliver quantifiable improvements to animal welfare and consumer confidence.

The health and happiness of his flock is vital to Rob as is the trust of each customer – particularly in a market where the term ‘free range’ can be bandied about.

“I believe that the consumer that selects free range does so in the understanding that the animal has enjoyed a lifestyle with true freedom to range, as such we have gone to a lot of trouble to create our own standard and to obtain a third party ‘pasture raised’ accreditation for the system that we follow.”

“PROOF (Pasture Raised on Open Fields) system very closely follows the legislated UK version, the system ensures fresh pasture, small flocks, extended access to range and most importantly results in a bird that has an improved flavour and texture.”

How do you enjoy your chicken?

Rob admits he’s no chef, but does enjoy his wife’s chicken and broccoli salad with a glass of local vineyard Ghost Rock’s pinot gris of a summer’s evening. Come winter, it’s spicy tandoori chicken cooked in bulk to ensure leftovers for lunch the next day.

For now, Rob is concentrating on continuing the cropping cycle on a neighbouring farm, as well as staying on top of an ever-evolving industry.

“The poultry business is a rapidly changing one where consumer expectations can change and farmers are challenged to respond. This never-ending evolution has seen the poultry industry expand rapidly as consumer demand for the versatile chicken meat products continues to grow.”

Despite everything, Rob is never far from tending to his birds and the land, paying close attention to environmental innovation and his sustainable farming legacy. It’s farmers like this that make Tasmania a talking point for foodies across the globe, and get us thinking about how our shopping choices can make a meaningful impact on how commercial farms diversify.

For more information on what makes Nichols Ethical Free Range chickens different, take a look at this comparison chart.