When Chris moved from the city to a defunct chicken farm in Dargle he didn’t intend to become a farmer. However, there were barns, fields, staff and a processing room, so he thought he’d see what he could do with the resources at hand. Within a few years he was producing such delicious chicken under the Croft Farm label that he won the coveted Best Producer in the Free Range category at the Eat In DStv Food Network Produce Awards.
Now there are two week old bundles of fluff huddled under the heating lamps on a chilly day and a couple of hundred adult chicks pecking at the earth in the sunshine nearby. Chris has learnt what works best by trial and error. “Lots of the big commercial producers laugh at me trying out new ideas – like growing mealworms, or letting the chickens roam freely. I remember being told that chickens don’t like to go outside – that’s nonsense! They are originally forest creatures, so dislike the blazing sun, preferring the shade of the barn on really hot days.”
Chris is certain that a better life means there is less mortality (lost profit) and better tasting chicken too. He mixes the feed himself and to cope with the congestion the birds sometimes get, puts Eucalyptus oil in their drinking water. When the inevitable slaughter day arrives, Chris prefers to use small scale abattoirs that use old school manual methods.
“I’m an internet farmer, I learn and try new things all the time,” he says. This is an advantage in a rapidly changing world where methods passed down through generations don’t necessarily work anymore. Chris was recently given some big spotted pigs – Duroc cross Hampshire – so he is giving pig farming a go. “They are real escape artists, especially when the acorns are falling,” he laughs, so he is sturdily fencing four areas with a central shelter for them to live happily, grubbing about without disturbing the neighbours. He turned a couple into sausages recently, they were a real hit.
He also produces delicious eggs under the Fresh Start label. While Chris enjoys spending time with his chicks, he is always eager to try new things and has begun brewing craft beer with a likeminded entrepreneurial friend, Pete Foulis, in a converted chicken shed!
If you get up with the birds, you can find Chris’ produce at the Karkloof Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. http://www.croftfarm.co.za