Episode 22 - Chicken Man
On the next episode, screening 12 August 2018 at 7pm on TVNZ 1:
As the sun rises on a Hastings apple orchard, steam rises off a futuristic chicken shed. The chickens stir and wander outside to peck and fossick among the wind-fall apples.
It’s an idyllic scene and all thanks to the vision of young entrepreneur Ben Bostock.
When Ben Bostock returned from his OE, he looked around for something to throw himself into. The answer? Chicken farming.
Or more specifically organic, free-range chicken farming. The only company in New Zealand producing organic chickens on a commercial scale had stopped production and, seeing an opportunity, Ben seized it with both hands.
Organics is in Ben’s blood. His parents, John and Vicky Bostock were pioneers in organics, converting their conventional apple orchard to organic in 1996 Vicky was appalled at the quantity of agri-chemicals being sprayed around the orchards of Hawkes Bay and persuaded John to change.
“She could be very strong and one day she said, 'no more sprays around here.' I said 'yep, OK, we’ll get into it,' and that’s how it all started,” says John.
Over the next twenty years John grew the business, expanding into squash, kiwifruit and maize. He developed an export market in both organic and conventionally grown crops and now exports all over world.
Turnover is $120 million a year and they employ 200 full-time and 600 seasonal staff. John’s experience and drive both inspired Ben and showed him what was possible.
France claims to grow the best organic chicken in the world – Label Rouge Poulet has an international reputation - so Ben went to see how it was done.
He didn’t just bring back ideas. He brought back specially designed mobile chicken sheds. They are solar-powered with automated feeding and watering systems.
Ben’s younger brother George has since become a partner in the business and Ben and George share the boss’ hat.
Ben looks after production while George is focused on sales and marketing.
To be certified organic, all the chicken’s feed must also be certified organic, so the brothers grow the maize and barley.
“That means,” says Ben, “that we can’t use any pesticides, herbicides or compound fertilizers so this is where our very own chicken manure comes into play. It’s a fantastic circle of life: the chickens have produced the manure which has then fed the maize. The maize is grown up a year later which is fed back to the chickens so it’s a really good cycle of life.”
The chickens are chemical-free, GMO free and also antibiotic-free. Most other commercial chicken farms feed their chickens antibiotics, not, according to Ben, to keep them healthy, but to speed up their growth.
“Our nutritionist he tells us that the antibiotics are all sold with performance-based stats – an increased growth rate or ‘buy this antibiotic and you’ll get a better feed conversion rate’. I really believe that it’s been developed for performance and for profit rather than for true health of the bird.”
Rather than try and speed up his birds’ growth, he deliberately slows it down. The result, he says, is firmer tastier meat.
Chicken is New Zealanders’ most popular meat. They eat over 30 kilos of chicken each a year. Ben and George Bostock are aware that consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown.
They reckon their chickens have the best life, free-ranging on green pasture in amongst the apple trees.
Find out more about Bostock's here.
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