There once were 4 Dutchmen with a dream. Their dream was to revolutionize the poultry industry. They envisioned happy hens, healthy eggs, and a healthy planet. Keeping the conventional practices in mind – laying batteries with hens that produce eggs of doubtful quality and eating corn that could have been used to feed people – this dream could have been called as naive as believing you will understand the Belgian political system when asking me to explain it. Nonetheless, those 4 gentlemen took it upon themselves to figure out how to make their dream come true. And so they did.
With the help of partners like the University of Wageningen, the Dutch Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Dutch environmental Organisation Mileudefensie, they developed a model for the chicken farm for the future: Kipster. Since last October, 24000 hens are happily occupying the first model farm in the South-East of the Netherlands, showing it is not just an exercise on paper.
So how does it work? As all sensible people know, the egg comes befor the chicken and that’s where our story starts. Chickens from the Dekalb breed are used because they are docile and continuosly lay eggs of the same size. The male chicks are not slaughtered to be fed to zoo animals — as it typically goes for the poor rooster chicks — but reared for 17 weeks before turned into meat products.
The chickens are housed in what can be called the most modern chicken farm on the planet. It comprises of a large indoor garden with plenty of daylight, fresh air and natural elements, and an outdoor park / playground. Although the chickens are not officially free-range — an open space with an area of 10 hectares is required by law to deserve that title — the space per chicken is higher than in most free-range farms. With 6.7 hens per square meter, the Kipster farm is following guidelines from animal rights activists. The disease pressure is also lower compared to conventional farms, thanks to the fact that the whole indoor area can be cleaned and the outdoor area is properly fenced and netted to avoid interaction with birds that could be infected with diseases such as the bird flu.
What’s on the menu for the chicken, you wonder? Cookies! And other food that was originally meant for human consumption but about to be thrown away (people don’t like broken biscuits or dry bread). The eggs of the chickens cannot be called organic since not all the cookies and rice cakes they are fed are, but their diet nonetheless contributes enormously to the reduction of the environmental footprint of the farm.
It doesn’t stop there. The roof of the building housing the indoor garden, a meeting room and education centre, is equipped with over a thousand solar panels generating more electricity than what is consumed by the installations in the farm. And the egg cartons, they are made from potate starch. Yes, no plastic waste at the Kipster farm! Eggs are packed at the location, to avoid any additional transportation.
Kipster teamed up with Lidl, one of the biggest supermarket chains in the country, to offer people affordable carbon-neutral eggs while the farmers also get a fair wage. Kipster farm does not only want to show that their model works, but also that it is scalable and could work in an urban farming setting. So… what holds you back from starting one your neighborhood?