If Slow Food gave out medals to local food heroes then Richard Price, the farm manager of Lowther Estates would be near the top of the list to receive one. When he took over the management of the estate he was faced with enormous sheds, each containing 25,000 broiler chickens, a business established by his boss the eccentric Earl of Lonsdale. Richard persuaded the Earl to start a side line in organic chickens and after the foot and mouth crisis in 2001 the whole 3,500 acre estate turned organic- not just chickens, but sheep, cattle, turkeys and deer.
When I first thought of keeping chickens I went to see Richard and he very kindly showed me round the farm. It was the first time I’d been inside a battery unit and believe me the sight, sound and smell of 25,000 battery chickens is one I’ll never forget. In a nearby field were the organic chickens, whose lives were a complete contrast- they were pecking contentedly on the grass, in complete freedom. It costs three times as much to rear an organic chicken as a battery one, because they take twice as long to mature and their feed is much more expensive. Nevertheless Richard was convinced that he had to move away from the battery system and in time Lowther became the main suppliers of organic chickens in Cumbria. Richard’s example was an inspiration to me in establishing my farm.
Now Lowther Estates have taken the decision to forego their organic status. This is unfortunate and is no doubt due to the high price of organic feed- but one thing is certain, the welfare standards of the farm animals at Lowther will not be compromised.