By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Free-range farming is a farming approach where poultry and livestock are free from cages and are allowed to roam free in a secure area that also has a foraging area where they can get food for additional nutrition.
Compared to conventional farming, this approach is cost-effective as it relies mostly on nature, eliminating the need for special feeds, boosters, antibiotics, expensive housing, and more.
John Louie Ongkeko, a farmer and breeder who runs Nanay’s Nature Farm in Lucena, Quezon, decided that free-range farming was the best route to take in his goal of providing healthy, quality meat for his community.
He invested in the right breeds of chickens and pigs that are ideal to raise in a free-range setting. As a result, Nanay’s Nature Farm boasts of producing quality meat that surpasses the flavor of conventionally farmed animals.
Although Ongkeko considers managing a free-range farm easy to do, he admits that there are still some factors to be wary about to secure the success of the farm, as well as the lives of those in it.
Here are five tips from Ongkeko on how to run or manage a free-range farm:
1. Learn what you can
When venturing into something unfamiliar or something that you really want to turn out successful, Ongkeko said that the best way to start is to study and learn about the best practices on how to manage a free-range farm.
“You can watch tons of videos online or join seminars and workshops before starting. These will give you ideas and teach you important things such as how to deal with live animals,” he said.
He added that you can start big or small, as long as you study and be familiar with how the system works.
2. Start with the basics
In any livestock or poultry farm, the first order of business is to secure the basic needs of the animals who will inhabit the area. This includes housing, food, and water.
According to Ongkeko, since free-range farming means going back to the basics, investing in high-cost housing materials aren’t necessary as low-cost materials that are available in the environment are feasible to use. But he added that these should be able to protect the animals from harsh weather conditions.
He also said that a foraging area is necessary for a free-range farm. This area will serve as an open space where they freely roam and even forage food such as insects and plants.
“You can use basic materials especially bamboo for housing and fences. Even a small land or backyard can be used to raise free-range chickens and pigs. You can set up a small free-range backyard farm as small as 50 sq. m,” Ongkeko said.
When it comes to the food, Ongkeko said to provide the animals with a plant-based diet that can meet all of their nutritional requirements. The plants can be grown in the farm area.
“You can even get scrap vegetables and fruits from your local market. It’s free and you can even help reduce the amount of local waste,” he said.
3. Plan and prepare
No matter what the stage the farm is, Ongkeko said that it’s important to be prepared and plan ahead.
For instance, providing extra shelter or a natural concoction to boost animals’ immune system during the cold season is one way of preparing the farm to mitigate any losses in the future.
He set an example on Nanay’s Nature Farm when he planted various plants around the area to serve as forage when the first chickens arrived.
4. Maintain cleanliness
Since free-range farming is concerned with raising animals, it’s important to keep their environment clean. This means maintaining a clean source of food and water, as well as housing.
Having dirty and unkempt surroundings can harbor the presence of pests and diseases, putting the animals’ lives at risk and possibly causing the farm significant harm.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
With materials available online for free, the right answer to anyone’s question can be accessed easily. But if the answer still doesn’t show itself, he advises putting aside the pride and fear, and asking someone for help.
“Social media gives a lot of options for whom you can seek guidance and advice. Just make sure to ask a credible farm or breeder,” he said.
Hopefully, these five tips can help aspiring free-range farmers slowly find their footing in the industry and promote the growth of animals in a natural setting.
This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s May to June 2022 issue.