Daniel Mason’s chickens are hard to find, generally hidden deep within tall crops of cereals and legumes at Sladesdown farm near Ashburton in South Devon. Out of view from the birds of prey which often target free range birds, the chickens forage quietly through the crop on fallen seeds, soil organisms and insects. When autumn comes, birds such as goldfinches and linnets flock to feed on the seeds before the crops are cut and returned to the soils, building up the organic life below ground and perfectly paving the way ready for next year’s cereal crop.
Dan’s approach is based on the idea that what is good for his chickens is also good for the soils and wider biodiversity. And is also good food for the surrounding nature and wildlife. Where most free range poultry farmers damage the ground and pollute the rivers by packing pastures with as many birds as regulations allow, Dan treats his chickens as one element of a wider farming system. Their manure a precious resource for building fertility in the soils. By making the most of natural forage and giving the birds space and shelter to roam in, the birds grow slowly and develop a depth of flavour a long way from anything found on supermarket shelves.