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Tales from the countryside: Dr. Paul Talling from Loose Birds

Blog • September 23rd 2021

My whole life has been about farming, and I have loved the job since I started my small business in 2001. Don't get me wrong, it's not all roses, but the purpose and rewards of my everyday life are priceless.

When I was a young boy, my family had a small mixed farm with most farm animals and some crops. I always thought that one day I would have run that farm as my father did, but changing family circumstances caused the sale of the farm when I was only 15. Yes, I am glad I had the opportunity to study, get a PhD, and work in different environments, but I have always kept that dream of owning a farm in my drawer.

When my wife and I bought some land in Harome in the early 2000', she was excluding chicken from her diet. The welfare practices used in modern poultry production were a great concern to her. In addition, the widespread use of antibiotics and the eating quality of the resulting product was poor. No wonder she was not up to it. But I knew meat could taste much better, so I bought my first birds. The goal was to raise them in the most natural way possible, let them roam free in the field to peck at grass, weeds, and insects, and intervening with medicine only when necessary. After a few months, we enjoyed the most flavoursome chicken ever, and I slowly turned the hobby into a business.

When I think back at my old family farm I can't help but smile, as we used to live on a small fraction of the animals I am managing now. Many things remained the same, however. I still have a small farm, because it's easier to manage in detail all the processes, avoid waste, and raise animals naturally. Many other poultry farms in this country have opted for more standardized and intensive farming techniques, trading quality and animal welfare for efficiency and cheaper costs. They just can't compete with my standard of care and quality.

Beyond the activity of farming, there is a whole set of values and underlying principles that guide my actions and that is what makes the difference. I manage the land in a very natural way, fostering trees and hedgerows to grow with minimum trimming (only once every 2-3 years). They offer food and protection to barn owls, voles, nesting birds, and many species of insects, an essential source of protein for my chickens' diet. I also let my chickens live close together, young and old, so they can build up their immune system and drastically reduce any medical support needed during their life.

I believe that the main challenge faced by the agricultural sector lays in the culture of the farmers that still work the business-as-usual and are less prone to innovative, more natural ways of raising animals. But the culture of consumers needs changing too. Recognizing how purchasing better meat can encourage animal welfare, integrate essential nutrients in your diet, respect nature and farmers, is key to the sustainable development of the agricultural sector.