LOCAL FOOD HEROES: The chicken or the egg?

PUBLISHED: 11:17 24 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 20 February 2013

Long before Hugh and Jamie started their TV campaigns for more humane treatment of chickens, Juliet and Peter Kindersley of Sheepdrove Organic Farm, near Lambourn, were championing the cause...

How long has Sheepdrove been farming chickens?
We took over the farm in 1973 and have slowly built it into what it is today. We originally bought the old farm house and a small plot of land and gradually purchased small pockets of land around the farm house until we owned the whole farm. We started farming chicken around seven
years ago.

What first made Sheepdrove go into the chicken business?
Chickens are one of the most abused of all farm animals (pigs come a close second) and we wanted to show that you can rear chickens just as well on natural systems without antibiotics and close confinement.

Tell us about your chickens

We keep around 15,000 at any one time on the farm. We buy them from FAI (Food Animal Initiative, an animal welfare organisation) farms as day old chicks. We support a breeding programme with FAI to try and return the organic chicken, as closely as possible, to how they would have originally been in the wild. This is why we have conservatories for sunlight, perches, as they are woodland birds, and play them sounds while they are still chicks to accustom them to real sounds in the field. After they have feathered up, and will be able to keep themselves warm outdoors, they go into the field. There they live in mobile houses and range freely in woodland strips where they get much of their food.
As well as chickens we rear award winning turkey, beef, lamb, mutton and pork.

What's the philosophy behind your products?
It's very simple; a happy animal that is allowed to live and display its natural characteristics is a healthy animal that in turn provides good quality meat. Research says the best sort of fat to eat is from animals that have been

What makes you different from other chicken farmers?
Our education programme; not only do we lead the market when it comes to chicken welfare, we also try to educate the people who come on our farm tours, awareness days, workshops and corporate events at our conference centre. We have also entered into a number of school programmes and sponsor a year-long local project in conjunction with the Newbury & District Agricultural Society, which teaches students about nutrition and healthy eating.

What do you think about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver's campaigns to highlight the cruelty of battery chicken farming?
We think it is excellent that these household names are debating these issues, trying to raise standards across the meat industry, and highlight what a lot of the major producers don't want us to see. We strongly believe if people knew how their animals were reared and treated they would think twice about what they were buying. I understand that people have budgets but if the cheapest of chicken reared in the worst circumstances were not available then surely the price of the better reared chicken would become more competitive for both consumer and grower? Sheepdrove's chicken sales increased dramatically following the original TV show, as did the pork sales following Jamie's programme about pigs.

Who are your customers?
Our customers are very varied, however we are focusing on our local market. We believe very strongly in local organic food, which we deliver free locally, but if people can't get good organic produce locally we will supply via our website. We also supply restaurants and organic shops.

Have you won any awards for your chickens?
We don't want to appear big headed, but there are too many to mention! They range from the Soil Association Organic Food awards (including ones for our lamb) to local agricultural awards from the Royal Berkshire Show, for best medium sized farm.

Where can we buy your chickens?
Our produce is available through our two butchers shops in London and Bristol, or via our home-delivery box scheme.

Give us a recipe?
Our roast chicken speaks for itself.

Roast chicken


  • 1 Sheepdrove Organic whole chicken

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 tsp salt

  • black pepper

  • 150g green olives

  • for the potatoes

  • 1 kg potatoes, quartered lengthwise

  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed

  • juice 1 lemon

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 tsp dried rosemary

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Cooking instructions

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F) Gas 6.

Smear the chicken all over with olive oil and rub in the salt. Put a pinch of salt and pepper inside the cavity, together with the olives.

Combine the potato quarters with the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, rosemary and salt and pepper; mix well to coat each potato quarter evenly.

Choose a roasting tin that will just accommodate the chicken and the vegetables. Place the chicken breast side down in the pan and surround with potatoes.

Roast the chicken (for approx 25 minutes per 500g) until golden brown with a crisp skin. If necessary turn the chicken breast side up to brown for the last 15 minutes of cooking.

To test for doneness, stick a fork into the chicken under the wing and hold the chicken up, cavity down; if juices run clear, not pink it is cooked through. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes to allow the juices to settle.

Carve and serve hot with the warm green olives, garlicky crisp potatoes, chicken juices and a crisp leafy salad.

Sheepdrove Organic Farm
RG17 7UU
Sales Team Tel: 01488 674747
Tel: 0118 932 6132
Open Monday-Friday 9am-5pm
Saturday and Sunday, 10am-4pm

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