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If the yellow chicken sold on the shelves of Cactus is a great success, it's because its producers have found the winning recipe in the way they raise them. For Tom Jungblut, farmer of Heederhaff and member of the project "Poulet vum Lëtzebuerger Bauer", quality and animal welfare come first, so that the consumer may enjoy the unique taste of chicken with a clear conscience.
Roasted, grilled or even breaded, chicken is a staple of Luxembourg cuisine, as it is elsewhere. But at a time when good conscience is inviting itself onto consumers' plates, demand is evolving and pushing producers to adapt to it. Tom Jungblut, owner of the Heederhaff, has been working with Cactus supermarkets and four other farmers since 2017 to meet this demand by offering customers Luxembourgish chicken of impeccable quality while taking care of animal welfare.
A small farm with a big plan
Heederhaff is one of 5 businesses supplying the famous yellow chicken. Located in Contern, in the south of the country, this farmhouse is slightly off the road, right next to the main house, and the farmer manages the site with the help of his family. Tom Jungblut, the heart and soul of the place, is relaxed, welcoming, joking and above all passionate. With an infectious smile, he is delighted to be able to show off his establishment, of which he could not be prouder. Like many farms in Luxembourg, the Heederhaff is a family business. In addition to the traditional seeds that it still produces today, it has seen its production transformed with the "Poulet vum Lëtzebuerger Bauer" project.
It project is the result of customer demand and "an idea born at a late hour at the 'FAE agricultural fair' in Ettelbruck. Customers no longer wanted "chicken from factory farms, but high-quality, artisanal poultry". This crazy idea, which would lead to the birth of the country's first ever chicken chain, appealed directly to the farmer from Contern, who took the opportunity to offer his help. "I found the right people at the right place and time, " he says today.
The origin of the project
Tom Jungblut about the birth of the project "Poulet vum Lëtzebuerger Bauer" in collaboration with Cactus.
* in Luxembourgish
In addition to being a project close to his heart, providing Cactus is a financial insurance for the Heederhaff farmer. In return for a unique and exclusive product, the supermarket commits to buying all his chicken–so he is sure to sell his whole production. This saw the deal for a 'win-win collaboration' between the two parties was inked.
In order to supply Cactus throughout the year, while guaranteeing good living conditions for the chicken and quality poultry, one producer is not enough; a rotation between several farmers and farms is therefore necessary.
"Lëtzebuerger Poulet Sàrl", who supplies the Luxembourg supermarket from 5 businesses, works hand in hand with Tom Jungblut, Bob Kaes (Meyrishaff in Bastendorf), Georges Hemmer (Hemmerhaff in Oberpallen), Marc Denzer (Beringen) and Martin Losch (Cruchten). Between them, they have 10 farms and are responsible for the entire production of Luxembourg's yellow chicken, and the logistics are simple: regardless of the supplier, 420 chicken are delivered to Cactus to fill its shelves each week, and the farmers take turns. Each of the member farms of the "Poulet vum Lëtzebuerger Bauer" collective supplies the supermarkets in rotation.
Quality and animal welfare first
At the Heederhaff, Tom Jungblut works according to the motto "quality before quantity" and this motto clearly reflects on site once you’re inside the farm. On the seemingly tiny premises, which are set against the shed with the farmer's apple green tractors, the décor is once again completely different from what you might expect. "The chicks, which are only a few days old, look very cute", the farmer says, before explaining the different stages of the breeding process.
Tom Jungblut on what is being done by the "Poulet vum Lëtzebuerger Bauer" project to ensure the animal welfare of its chicks.
* in Luxembourgish
First, the chicks arrive from the L'Oeuf d'Or hatchery in Andenne, near Namur in Belgium, because there is no hatchery in Luxembourg. Once at the Heederhaff, they stay there for a minimum of 50 days (usually 56), which is a long time compared to the 30 to 34 days they usually spend with industrial producers. The chicken spend their entire stay at Contern indoors, sharing one square metre for every 13 animals; a very low density. Letting them out would be pointless, because during the fattening period of 56 days, the barn is heated to 28 degrees most of the time and the chickens are reluctant to go outside.
Moreover, the area allocated to them gives them plenty of room to run around; "even when they grow up, the farm is still half empty". When it's time to go to the slaughterhouse, "you know almost all the chicken by their first names because there are so few of them, " Tom Jungblut jokes, adding that "chicks destined to end up on a supermarket shelf couldn't be happier" than with the producers of "Poulet vum Lëtzebuerger Bauer".
"The chicks, which are only a few days old, look very cute."
In terms of diet, the chicks are fed exclusively by the Moulin Val-Dieu, which specialises in poultry feed. This is a "small, traditional, non-industrial mill with high quality requirements" located in Belgium. This, plus the fact that it is also a family business, convinced the participants of "Poulet vum Lëtzebuerger Bauer" to work with them. The choice of food is very important for his chicken, because it makes all the difference. Indeed, its yellow colour is not chemical, but genetic; "it is the fat between the skin and the meat of the chicken that is coloured through the corn in the feed and extracts of broom flower".
Tom Jungblut about the origin of the unique taste of the famous yellow chicken.
* in Luxembourgish
Luxembourgish yellow chicken is also known for its paprika flavour. "If you cook a chicken in the oven at home, you will probably put paprika on it to make the skin crisp. We can't serve our chickens red wine, but we can at least give them paprika, " jokes Tom Jungblut, who is taking the lead in ensuring that consumers can enjoy the best of the chicken. He adds that" as well as making it crispy, as you would expect from a high-quality bird, the paprika makes and keeps the meat juicy". In addition to this, the time the chicks spend at the Heederhaff allows their muscles to have more time to grow and develop, which reduces the amount of water in the chicken and therefore further improves its quality.
"If you cook a chicken in the oven at home, you'll probably put paprika on it to make the skin crisp."
Another topic that often comes when talking about poultry farms is diseases. Here too, the farmer of "Poulet vum Lëtzebuerger Bauer" has an infallible strategy: "The chicks are vaccinated in accordance with the law, they do not leave the farm and therefore do not come into contact with other animals and birds, thus almost completely eliminating the risk of bird flu. The farms remain empty for 2 weeks after each rearing so that, if there was a disease in the previous poultry, it cannot be transmitted to the next one."
Although it sounds simple, creating the first national chicken production was not an easy task. Indeed, the Grand Duchy did not produce its own chicken before this project, and there’s a reason for that. "The country has neither a slaughterhouse nor a chick producer, and finding them abroad without being accused of making long journeys was no easy task, " says Tom Jungblut. But the main issue were slaughterhouses as they don't see the point in slaughtering 'only' 420 chickens when they have the capacity to slaughter a several thousand per hour."
The fact that the machines were running and printing labels specific to Luxembourg chicken for such a small quantity also had a significant cost. In the end, Cactus and its farmers were able to find a reasonable solution through the slaughterhouse "Ardennes-Volaille" from Bertrix, also in Belgium. As with the transport of feed and chicks, the journey is short, at around one hour's drive. "If you compare this with the transport of beef, the journey a farmer from Knapphouschent has to make to Ettelbruck is more or less the same", says the farmer from Contern.
All in all, the project was finally able to come to fruition, but all these difficulties, together with the priority given to the welfare of the chicks, are the reason for the high price of Luxembourg chicken and remind us that this product should not be taken for granted, but appreciated for its true value.
Tom Jungblut's recipe
Before getting back to work, the farmer shows that he’s also a talented chef under the traditional black oval iron plate with the name of his farm hanging over the main door of his shed and reveals how he thinks his chicken should be best enjoyed. "First, marinate it in olive oil and paprika, then add salt and pepper and put it in the oven. Then baste it regularly with its juice until it is cooked. Finally, slice some potatoes without peeling them, cover them with coarse salt and bake them as well."
The recipe is simple. You know what you have to do now!