The term “free range” on poultry and eggs may bring to mind rolling hills where chickens roam freely and feed on their natural diet, and exist in plenty of space, fresh air and sunshine. The term “pastured” is not defined or regulated by the USDA, and it varies depending on the farmer or producer. But the term “free range” is also weak because the USDA’s only stipulation is that “the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” This access may only be a small pop-open chicken door, and the bird may never see the light of day in its entire life. Even if they do make it outside, it may be to a pen with a dirt ground, not necessarily grass. “Cage free” is a similar term, which at least ensures that the chickens weren’t kept in crammed cages all of their lives, unable to even spread their wings.
A typical scene at a “free range” chicken farm may be hundreds of birds roaming freely, inside the chicken house. At least they’re not in cages. Although, some farmers truly let their chickens roam freely in the field, feasting on their natural diet and enjoying a natural lifestyle, thus producing healthier meat and eggs.
So, what should you do? If shopping in the supermarket, it’s still best to choose “free range” or “cage free” over the cheaper conventional poultry and eggs. Though it may not ensure the food was raised in a perfectly ideal environment, it’s still a better choice. Any step away from conventional, and into the direction of a more natural, free range or organic food, is a good step.
Locally raised poultry and eggs from reputable sources where the chickens are truly pasture-raised and can roam free are definitely the best, if available.
By Aaron Hughes
If you live in or around Hardin County, KY, here's an awesome local source: