Caring for farm animals and poultry in the healthiest, most comfortable environment possible—the concept of animal welfare is becoming established as the standard in Western countries, but unfortunately, it hasn’t gained currency yet in Japan. For many livestock farmers here, the priority is increasing production volumes and reducing costs. If you visited a typical henhouse, for instance, you would see a huge crowd of hens kept in cramped cages with no exposure to sunlight, mechanically laying egg after egg.
The Kuju Plateau, situated in Aso-Kuju National Park, is a dreamy location with an unbroken 360-degree view of green grassland. This magnificent plateau is home to one of Japan’s rare producers of cage-free eggs, Green Farm Kuju. Fewer than one in ten egg farms in Japan reject stacked cages in favor of raising chickens on flat ground in a practice called hira-gai (literally “flat-rearing”). We asked deputy director Hiroki Aramaki why this is his farm’s style of choice.
“Chickens like to run and stretch and roll around in the sand. They need freedom to move, just as we humans do. Cage-free farming allows all of this. Another benefit is that hens and roosters can live together in the same space, as they do in nature. Our chickens are free to move to a warmer or cooler area, or to a spot with a breeze or the sunshine. They end up exercising over a large area of ground, and this helps keep them healthy. Also, our chickens peck at soil containing their own naturally composted manure. Thanks to the beneficial microbes in the soil, our chickens are healthy, and they don’t have an unpleasant smell.”
It’s true. There must have been thousands of chickens on the farm, but surprisingly, we barely noticed the distinct odor of poultry. Instead, we couldn’t help smiling as the chickens busily moved to and fro and clucked and crowed with every new sound and flicker of light and flow of air. A glance at this living environment is all it takes to understand why the eggs produced here are so fresh and rich and flavorful.
“We believe quality eggs can only come from healthy hens, and to this end, the Kuju Plateau gives us a great advantage. The cool climate at this high altitude is ideal for chickens, since they dislike the heat. And the copious spring water is essential, since eggs are 70 percent water. Should our chickens fall ill and the quality of the eggs suffer as a result, it would cause extra work for our workers, inconvenience for our customers, and problems with our company’s finances. That’s why it’s so important to look after the health of the chickens. Cage-free farming is our natural choice.”
Originally, Hiroki’s grandfather learned that fertilized eggs are used to make influenza vaccines. At a time when Japan was recovering from World War II, he organized a poultry farm cooperative to supply high-quality eggs and revitalize the industry. In other words, Green Farm Kuju’s mission from the start was to enrich the people’s lives, the chickens’ health, and the local economy. The grand goal of the Aramaki family is concentrated in these delicious eggs.
“We try to keep our practices as close as possible to the natural cycle. Whether or not this is making our chickens happy, I couldn’t say—you’d have to ask them yourself. What I do know is that our chickens are mostly free from disease and they offer a stable supply of tasty eggs. I think this says we are treating their lives with respect and dignity.”