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"You can see that they're happy to be out in the fresh air"

Down on David Homer’s farm near Newbury, 220 cows produce essential Waitrose milk, and like all the retailer’s dairy animals, they spend the middle part of the year outside grazing on fresh grass. 

‘Exactly when we let them out depends on the weather, and how much grass there is,’ says Homer. 'The day we let them out, they hop and skip around with their tails up – you can see they’re happy to be out in the fresh air.’

Bringing the cows outside has wider benefits, too.

‘Once we get properly into spring, with lovely lush, deep green grass, that’s a complete diet for them,’ says Homer. ‘And they harvest it themselves, so we’re not having to mow it, pick it up, make it into silage or hay and deliver it to them. That saves time, money, energy, and wear and tear on our machinery.’ And cows doing what they do naturally is good for the land too. ‘They’re walking round, lifting their tails, doing what cows do – fertilising the fields,’ says Homer. ‘They get nutrients from the grass, take what they need, make milk, and what they don’t need goes back into the land. It’s a very self-sufficient system – it works for them, and it works for us.’

"Happy chickens is what we want"

Peek into one of Stephen Bell's chicken houses and there's a good chance you'll see his birds lending a hand with the day's jobs. 'We give them straw bales to play with,' says Stephen, 'and they love to scratch around in them and peck at the straw. In fact, they usually do a bit of work for me, spreading the straw around to supplement their bedding!' 

Stephen's one of the farmers who supply our essential Waitrose chicken, all from family farms
– Stephen's has been in his family for three generations. They only supply chickens to Waitrose, so we've created a long-term relationship that means the farmers can plan ahead.

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'I've been supplying Waitrose for 10 years now,' says Stephen.

All the farmers work to strict standards of animal welfare, feeding the hens a cereal-based diet and rearing them in purpose-built houses with large windows to let in plenty of natural light, which encourages the chickens to be alert and active. They also have 20% more space than the industry standard, which has been endorsed by Compassion in World Farming.

Stephen says: 'I think anyone who looked into my sheds would be able to see that they're happy and content and as a farmer, happy chickens is what you want. This way of working is better for the birds, but it's better for us too. In fact, if I look out the window and it's raining cats and dogs, the sheds are so nice I stay in there with the chickens!'