Pastured Poultry

What does pastured poultry mean?  Free-range?  Organic? 

This and other questions... 


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The terms "free range", "organic" and "pastured" are used among both consumers and producers of eggs and poultry meat. However, most of these terms have no legal definition in the United States, resulting in confusion and misconceptions.

Free Range Poultry

The USDA definition of free range is that "producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside."(1) Notice that no pasture or green grass is required - the birds don't even have to go outside to be labeled free range! All that needs to happen is that the chickens, at some point in their lives, have a door that opens to the outdoors from inside their densely packed chicken house.

Organic Poultry

The National Organic Program has no definition of free range (2) or pastured - guidelines do exist that say "All organically raised animals must have access to the outdoors..."(3). This means when you see something in the store labeled organic or free range, the bird may never actually have seen the sun or green grass, or have placed a foot on soil even one day of its life.

Conventional Chickens

Standard modern chicken production for meat (broilers) typically raises birds in windowless buildings that house over 10,000 birds. For egg production, the largest farms have millions of chickens stacked in cages three high. Birds are often fed antibiotics and arsenic for quick growth and are debeaked to prevent cannibalism. Dead birds are removed throughout the day, often to be recycled into animal feed (ever see "poultry meal" on your pet food labels?).

Pastured Poultry

A quick trip to www.dictionary.com tells us:

pasture, the noun, is "an area covered with grass or other plants used or suitable for the grazing of livestock; grassland"

pasture, the verb, is "to feed (livestock) by putting them out to graze on pasture".

free range is "(of livestock and domestic poultry) permitted to graze or forage for grain, etc., rather than being confined to a feedlot or a small enclosure."

Due to the loose definition of "free range", we here at luckybird prefer to use the term "pastured poultry". Our definition is "once feathered (old enough to keep themselves warm), birds are kept outside utilizing a moveable shelter, with constant access to fresh-growing, nutritious vegetation."

Once our birds have "grazed" for 24 hours (12 hours for the final two weeks), their pen are moved to a fresh pasture. In this manner, the birds fertilize the pasture with their manure then move on quickly to fresh grass. Each pasture will see birds at most only once a year, ensuring the soil does not build up excess nitrogen and the birds are exposed only to fresh, uncontaminated nutrition.

Our pasture system provides shelter while allowing the birds constant access to sunlight and fresh air. Their diet is enriched by grasses, clovers, grains, exercise and the insects they find as they forage. Pastured poultry is nothing new; in fact we are conducting much of our research using books written before 1940, before the arsenal of chemicals we know today were introduced to our farming operations.

Everything our birds eat is natural. We provide organic feed that is safe and wholesome, processed under federal inspection. No artificial chemical fertilizers or pesticides, no antibiotics are given, no added hormones, no steroids, no arsenic (yes, some store-bought chickens are actually fed arsenic to increase growth), no meat by-products, no growth enhancers, no preservatives, no flavor enhancing additives – just clean chicken.

The great thing is, allowing the chicken to do what comes naturally ensures an incredible meal for your table!

For more information on labels and what they mean, please see the Consumer Reports website on our Links page.

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Information from various sources, including cocofeed.com

(1) From the USDA site on meat and poultry labeling:http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/lablterm.htm

(2) NOP terms defined: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NOP/standards/DefineReg.html

(3) From the USDA website on the National Organic Program: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/FactSheets/ProdHandE.html