The organic chicken pioneer with nothing to hide

With animal welfare, seeing is believing

Thirty years ago, people laughed at Herman Kemper and his free-range hens. Today KemperKip controls an entire circular production chain. Plans for the future: a large ‘chicken park’ where consumers can experience the life of an organic chicken.

In the early nineties, Herman Kemper realized he’d had enough of intensive poultry farming. The KemperKip director missed the full flavors of chicken reared the old-fashioned way, with high-quality feed and room to forage. He got the right breed of chicken from France and started working with small-scale farmers to put the chickens of yesteryear on the menu again.

From chick to consumer

“The success did not come out of the blue,” says Commercial Director and KemperKip Spokesperson, Henri Verstappen. “KemperKip monitors the entire production chain from just-hatched chick to end product and works intensively with small-scale poultry farmers. We supply the day-old chicks and high-quality feed without antibiotics, composed of organic grain and other local residual streams. We involve permanent veterinarians and provide our own transport to the production facility in Uden, in the Netherlands, to make the process as stress free as possible.”

“When we lose sight of animal welfare, things go wrong”

- Henri Verstappen, KemperKip

The consumer market for organic and animal-friendly products is growing. “It is all very logical,” explains Verstappen. “When we lose sight of animal welfare and the environment and we only look at quantity, things go wrong. People want to know more about the origin of their food. We put ‘farmer codes’ on the packaging so the product can be traced via our website.

“Thanks to our farmers’ special attention, our chickens are reared in an animal-friendly way and can exhibit their natural behavior. We notice that the farmers enjoy their work much more because they have a much better bond with the chickens.”

“‘Farmer codes’ on our packaging mean the products can be traced”

- Henri Verstappen, KemperKip

Home on the (free) range

One of the most important conditions for KemperKip’s signature products – the organic ‘landhoen,’ an old breed of European chicken, and the corn-fed free-range chicken – is the foraging space the animals get. But this demand for space comes with a challenge: few farms are suitable for their production.

“Our husbandry system is very specific,” explains Verstappen. “We are looking to collaborate with farms that have a small barn with a large outdoor area for the chickens. The small-scale companies that used to have that are becoming increasingly rare. Succession within the family is declining and only large poultry farms remain. That is why we have developed a plan to build poultry farms ourselves, so that we can meet our growth demands.”

A rendering of the ‘chicken park,’ where visitors will be able to see how their food is raised.

The ‘chicken park’

The company envisions a huge organic chicken park where visitors can see how the chickens are raised with their own eyes. But that plan is not yet popular with locals near Doetinchem, in the east of the Netherlands. In particular, residents are worried about lung diseases caused by particulate matter pollution.

Verstappen is not worried: “Our plan includes thirteen barns on thirty hectares – that’s fewer chickens than there would be in just two conventional barns. Our small-scale husbandry systems have farms of around 5,000 chickens, while a large barn in intensive poultry farming has up to 35,000 chickens on a much smaller surface area.”

Nevertheless, there was resistance during information meetings with the community. “We are caught between a rock and a hard place,” Verstappen explains. “We would like to show our chain transparently to the consumer. On the other hand, there is a lot of regulation to prevent the introduction of animal diseases and the like. Making this park a reality requires more time than we had estimated.”

“Not in my backyard”

“A plan comprising thirty hectares is hard to realize in a country as densely built as the Netherlands,” says Verstappen. “Every Dutch person is by now convinced that our way of chicken farming is the right one – it’s just that nobody wants it in their own backyard.

“As a market leader, we want to be very transparent about how producing organic chicken should be done and how we do it. As we move from speciality stores to mainstream retail, the scale on which we have to organize our chain is vastly increasing. We need room for that.”

“Everyone wants free-range chicken, but not in their backyard”

- Henri Verstappen, KemperKip

Circular chicken farming

Opinions differ on the footprints of organic and conventional poultry farms, but for KemperKip organic is the only way forward. Verstappen: “Our chickens live longer and use more feed. But we do not use chemical pesticides in the feed production and do not have a manure surplus. It’s all being used for the cultivation of a range of organic crops.”

Added value concepts – like using waste streams – are an important component for so-called ‘optimized carcass yield.’ “If I have a chicken, I do not only have to sell the fillet and thighs,” Verstappen explains. “I also have to monetize the drumsticks, the wings and all the other parts to come to a realistic and attractive cost price for the whole concept.

“You could also leave the residual waste flows for the customers to solve, but that’s only shifting the problem. We monetize our waste flows by making all kinds of other products. For example, carcasses are processed into organic pet food and other products. By constantly exploring new possibilities for processing our chickens, we get the most we can out of each animal without wasting anything.”