Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chickens
Situated between Bendigo and Euroa, Yapunyah have acre after acre of beautiful land, covered with grass, shrubs and trees. Here is where Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chickens are raised – Cannings’ premium poultry offering. In 2017 we had the pleasure of visiting the Yapunyah farm ourselves and seeing the amazing work owner operators Ian and Amanda McClaren are doing. This month, we were fortunate enough to catch up with Amanda from Yapunyah once again to chat about what’s been happening since we last visited!
The McClarens have been running Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chickens for over 10 years – and in that time have built up a loyal following across regional farmers markets, and developed a reputation for amazing quality, rustic style chicken. Using a rotational grazing enclosure to protect the birds from predators, the chickens spend their days working their way across the fields foraging and pecking for food, and roosting in sheds at night.
We asked Amanda about the benefits of this rotational grazing model, and it turns out the impact is much wider reaching than just happy chooks! “The benefits are huge both for the birds and the pastures - they get moved onto fresh ground with access to fresh grass as well as fresh dirt to scratch around in, so there’s no potential build up of disease or nutrient burden."
"We’ve been running our business for over ten years and during that time our chicken enclosures have not gone over the same piece of ground twice. We’ve got 415 acres, which we move the chicken enclosures through, and that creates a huge opportunity for improvement of our pastures. A couple of years back we managed to cut hay in a paddock we’d never cut hay in before and the improvement to the pastures has been incredible. Everything we do is aiming to improve the sustainability of the farm into the future, to be responsible and regenerative farmers, and to build the fertility and the opportunity on the farm.”
Being big believers in slow-food, Yapunyah’s method of raising their Ross Chickens reflects that ethos; – the birds are raised at a slower rate than regular free range chickens – allowing them to get bigger and plumper over time. This is why Yapunyah Meadow Grazed roasting chickens can weigh in at as much as 2.5-3kg. At Cannings we are lucky to have seen for ourselves an average day in the life of these chickens and observe them pecking and scratching around in the mud and grass – not like some pristine photoshopped prize hens, these chickens really do live on the land – and you can see how active and stimulated they are.
“We give them access to green grass, space to scratch around in the dirt for insects, and also plenty of sunlight. Sunlight is so important for these birds to grow into strong and healthy animals.” What’s amazing is that this is achieved in a hormone, GPA and GMO free environment. The McClarens source a custom blend of grains from a local mill for their feed, formulated with the help of animal nutritionists. “Chickens are omnivores so they need a balanced diet - unlike cows and sheep they don’t naturally survive on just a grass diet. We make sure that the grain mix we feed them is free from any soy or canola seed, and we avoid anything that could be genetically modified. We’re very conscious of what our birds are eating, and of providing them with the healthiest possible diet.”
The foraging diet balanced with a nutrient rich grain and the active lifestyles of these chooks allows for natural weight gain. Typically a bird at 3kg could taste game-y or overly fatty – but not these chickens! It’s as if all the best things about chicken have been accentuated. Our customers have often commented that “this is what chicken used to taste like”.
Over the years, Yapunyah have continued to go from strength to strength, however the last year or two have not been without their challenges. As Amanda told us, although their pastures are green right now, the drought has definitely had a big impact on them. One of the biggest flow-on effects from the drought for many Aussie farmers has been the skyrocketing price of feed. “That’s a real impact for a small business, it means expansion has to go on hold. We’re
always mindful that we want something that is available at a reasonable price point, so we haven’t put our prices up for customers and we’re currently wearing that cost within the business.
Being a small family run operation Yapunyah are about as involved in the raising of their birds as they could be, managing the workload of the farm between just the two of them. They produce a limited number of premium chickens that are coveted by a handful of restaurants and retailers in Victoria – of which, Cannings is lucky to be one. Amanda talked us through an average day in the life at Yapunyah farm, and it was a busy one to say the least! In spite of the challenges that the McClarens face being a small farming business, it’s passion and love that keeps them going. “We’ve spoken about the challenges, but we know that we can grow good chickens, we know that we can grow chickens that people want to eat that have got great flavour to them, that are produced in an ethical way, and are handled well. It’s really important for us to do that so that’s why we keep doing it.”
We asked Amanda what her favourite way to cook a Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chook is and she said that although she loves to do all kinds of different things with chicken (including a mean homemade butter chicken!), she just can’t go past a classic whole roast chook. Cooking a Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chicken (shop here) takes a bit more time than your regular roasting bird. Roast for 1.5-2 hours on about 170C and you’ll end up with a wonderfully succulent roast to feed 4-6 people – with left-overs!
We think Yapunyah Meadow Grazed birds are ideal for any time of the year, and are especially good in the festive season if you can’t eat a whole turkey but need something more substantial. They’re also great for catering for bigger groups, so we urge you to try one and invite your friends. And make sure you keep the carcass! Yapunyah Meadow Grazed Chicken bones make for an AMAZING broth!