Jason Peart has never bought a supermarket chicken in his life – why would he, when he and his family have been rearing their own at Martin’s Farm, Hindolveston for several generations, and now supply free range chickens, duck and guinea fowl to farmer’s markets, farm shops and quality butchers around Norfolk, such as ours at Walsingham Farms Shop.
Jason’s parents had always reared a few birds to sell to make a little extra at Christmas time, so there came a moment when he decided that expanding this to produce birds all year round would give him just the excuse he was looking for to give up being an electrician, and to farm full time, something he had always wanted.
On a cold wet and windy morning at the farm, at Hindolveston near Holt, a few chickens are out scratching around but most are sheltering inside their large insulated, lightweight hen houses, light enough to be easily rotated around the different fields. The birds are a mix of colours, white and red, a hybrid of different types giving a good balance of plump shape with the flavour that goes with slower growth and the robustness for outdoor living. These chickens will take around 16 weeks to be ready, about twice that of a supermarket bird, which is reflected in the price. You can go on fattening chickens for as long as 20 weeks, which results in the big birds which Jason still produces, mostly for Christmas but can bring them on like this to order.
With just 40 acres of arable, Jason keeps his grain crops for feed, rather than sell for a relatively low price only to buy in possibly poorer quality ready made food. By grinding the grain with protein and minerals Jason can adjust the rate at which the birds gain weight, controlling exactly what they are getting. In cold weather they need more calories, in summer less, and they need extra protein to put on bulky muscle and finish them for good eating. The chickens are all vaccinated against nasties such as salmonella, which means they don’t need the drugs which are routinely added to chicken feed.
It’s hard work, with the family sharing the tasks. Jason and his wife Karen are quick and expert at plucking and dressing the birds for the table, in their own small abattoir, while Jason’s parents do the deliveries around the county. Then there’s keeping an eye out for foxes (and other people’s marauding pet dogs). Foxes lurk in the field hedges or in summer, in the standing corn in the next door field, ready to pounce. Jason thinks he probably ‘disposes’ of around 70-80 foxes in a season.
You would think the Pearts might be fed up with eating chicken, but Jason still thinks there is nothing nicer, and also nothing much that’s more convenient. And of course a good chicken doesn’t need dressing up. ‘You can have meal upon meal from a chicken,’ he says. The Peart family’s idea of fast food is one of their nice plump chickens simply popped in a hot oven to roast.
Our butchers describe the Pearts as ‘old school’ and if you should need further proof of this, pass by the farm, where you’ll find a tiny shop in a shed at the farm gate stocked with good things and an honesty box.
We stock Jason’s chickens, duck and guinea fowl, and you can order ahead to make sure we have what you need in stock. To order, speak to one of our butchers on 01328 821877 (Walsingham) or 01485 570002 (Heacham) or email us firstname.lastname@example.org