By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
When raising poultry, one option on raising them is by allowing them to thrive in natural conditions where they can roam and forage in a secure area. This is called free-range farming.
In comparison to conventional farming, several foreign studies note that animals raised in free-range conditions are said to be healthier as well as free from chemicals found in commercial feeds and antibiotics.
“I have tasted a lot of chicken meat and nothing beats free-range and pastured chickens. Growing chickens, or any livestock, naturally will definitely taste better and it’s also free from the alarming fat content and allergic reactions that people get from eating commercial livestock,” said John Louie G. Ongkeko, a poultry breeder and farmer.
He owns and runs Nanay’s Nature Farm, a farm in Lucena City, Quezon that engages in free-range poultry and livestock raising with the vision of producing good quality meat for the community.
“I got into agriculture because of my passion for working with animals and securing food safety for my family. When I was working overseas in different countries, I noticed the importance of food and water: saving, recycling, and producing your [own] food and water. I also fell in love with the concept of farm to table,” Ongkeko said.
He added that he was influenced by his grandparents, whom they call Nanay and Tatay, who are the farmers in their family. Since he was a young boy, Ongkeko was inspired by their farm life and stories. As a tribute to his grandmother, Nanay Oway, he named the farm after her.
Nanay’s Nature Farm started in 2018 and while waiting for their free-range chicken breeders from Erwin Cruz of Dominant CZ Asia, the area was planted with bananas, mulberries, malunggay, madre de agua, bamboo, herbs, and some vegetables, which would later become the forage food for the animals grown in free-range.
Dominant CZ is a hen hatchery company in the Czech Republic that produces hens that can lay more than 250 eggs a year and is suitable for meat production. These birds are also designed for free-range conditions.
In the meantime, Ongkeko attended seminars, workshops, and courses from the Department of Agriculture to fortify his knowledge on free-range farming.
The farm’s free-range chicken breeds
Eventually, Ongkeko decided to add a Pinoy touch to the farm by adding in Philippine native chickens: the Banaba and Paraoakan.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Banaba or Banaba Labuyo from Batangas is a native chicken strain that is reported to be resistant against fowl pox and respiratory diseases, making it suitable to be raised outdoors.
When compared to commercial broiler chickens, Banaba chickens have better meat quality and color than commercial broilers.
The other native chicken strain on Nanay’s Nature Farm is the Paraoakan or Parawakan from Palawan, the largest heritage breed in the country. It is hardy against respiratory diseases, even during the monsoon season. Paraoakans are also known to have a quality flavor that surpasses that of commercial broiler chickens.
“We have the Philippine natives for the clients looking for the premium flavor. Nothing beats the PH native chicken when it comes to the ‘real chicken’ taste,” Ongkeko said.
Nanay’s Nature Farm sells their free-range chickens for around P400 to P1,000. Eggs are sold for P12/piece and P350 a tray for medium eggs.
Adding native pigs to the farm
Besides raising chickens on the farm, Ongkeko decided to promote the Philippine native species by adding native pigs, or black native pigs, into the mix.
But since he wanted to grow them in free-range conditions while also securing the quality of their meat, Ongkeko bred his stocks with the highest quality of swine available: the Berkshire or Kurubota pigs which are known for their perfect combination of juiciness, flavor, and tenderness.
“These super pigs are super sturdy. We only give them probiotics, tender loving care, and lots of sunlight. These super pigs are extreme weather conditions proof,” Ongkeko said.
In terms of meat, he attests that it’s like eating Wagyu, but pork, which is why these pigs fetch a price of P4,000 to P10,000 per head.
“We are producing premium quality black native pigs meat with limited supplies for Lucena and the metro. We produce pigs with low-fat content and have a distinct sweet taste because of the plants, fruits, and grass we feed them,” Ongkeko said.
Raising pigs and chickens free-range
On Nanay’s Nature Farm, Ongkeko said that their chickens and pigs are raised free-range. The animals are provided with a foraging area where they can freely roam to get grass, insects, plenty of sunlight, and even occasionally enjoy the rain.
“Growing food the natural way will give more health benefits. Nowadays, everything moves so fast–even food. Maybe it’s because others consider time is money so they expedite the growth of their livestock for faster income,” he said.
So to make sure that the food Nanay’s Nature Farm produces is of good quality and healthy to consume, Ongkeko opted to go back to the basics and take things slowly but surely.
By practicing free-range farming, Ongkeko doesn’t have to worry about extra costs such as feeds and antibiotics. Investing in the right breeds how he made the farm profitable and sustainable.
“For the housing, we use low-cost materials that can also protect the chicken and pigs from heavy rain or intense heat. We use beddings of rice hulls, sawdust, and straw to reduce any foul odor from the animals’ waste,” Ongkeko said.
As for the feeds, the animals on Nanay’s Nature Farm are given natural alternatives such as malunggay, madre de agua, banana leaves, grass, scrap vegetables, and fruits. Ongkeko also prepares a natural concoction made from malunggay juice and probiotics to help boost the animals’ immune system during the rainy season.
Nanay’s Nature Farm in Lucena, Quezon benefits greatly from free-range farming. Aside from being able to produce healthy, quality meat for their community, the farm’s expenses are also significantly less as opposed to those who practice conventional farming. Nanay’s Nature Farm is one of the many examples that show how going back to basics is more practical and forward-thinking.
For more information, visit Nanay’s Nature Farm – Free Range Chicken & Pigs on Facebook.
Photos courtesy of John Louie Ongkeko.