SHIJIAZHUANG - A farm in China is taking the idea of free-range chicken very seriously - each fowl wears an electronic tracker to count the exact number of steps it takes.
"We don't sell them until they have taken over one million steps, roughly 160 days," said manager He Xiaofei of the chicken farm located in north China's Hebei province, according to Xinhua news agency.
Walking about tightens the chicken's muscles and makes the meat tastier, according to the farm.
The farm has some 10,000 chickens and they are fed only natural food, the farm said, as quoted by Xinhua.
The chicken farm in Wuyi County is a poverty alleviation project supported by the county government and shopping site JD.com.
Wuyi is one of the poorest counties in China with most of the farmland barren and alkaline. More than 60 per cent of poor residents are elderly, sick or unable to support themselves, said Xinhua.
With small interest-free loans provided by JD.com, villagers are able to claim a number of chicken and get a dividend when they are sold. Some also have part-time jobs on the farm.
The government pays for insurance for the chicken, guaranteeing the incomes of the farmers.
Mr Li Xisheng, 76, borrowed 4,500 yuan (S$938) to claim 100 chickens last year. When they were ready for market, JD.com paid him 10,000 yuan (S$2,085). Deducting the loan repayment and farm management fees - water, electricity and slaughtering - Mr Li earned 3,000 yuan (S$625).
"The chickens have changed my life," Mr Li said, adding that he has just bought an electric tricycle.
The ready-to-cook chicken sold well online even though they cost 168 yuan (S$35) to 188 yuan (S$39), three or four times the normal price. Buyers have left more than 14,000 comments on JD.com, most in awe of the taste, Xinhua reported.
China's expanding middle-income group has created a lucrative market for high quality agricultural products, attracting investors including Internet giants Alibaba and NetEase. Both companies have free-range pig farms.
Wuyi County's deputy head Liu Wei said the chicken farm benefited poor villagers while bringing profits for big business. The farm has helped lift more than 400 households out of poverty in the county since March 2016, and will be expanded this year, with facilities to cater for tourists.