What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the term “free-range”? Chances are you picture chickens out grazing on open fields, walking about freely in the beautiful farmland sunshine. But what is a free-range chicken, exactly, and what makes it different from conventionally-raised chickens and organic chickens?
What is a Free-Range Chicken?
The term “free-range” refers to an animal’s ability to freely roam outdoors rather than being confined to a small, enclosed space for 24 hours a day. Chickens can technically be sold as “free-range” if they have government certified access to the outdoors. This could mean as little or as much access to the outside as possible with no real regulation in place. This is why it’s important for producers to be clear when they say their chickens are “free-range”.
But are there benefits to free-range chicken compared to regular chicken?
In this article we’ll discuss:
- How free-range chickens live
- Are free-range chicken healthier and happier?
- Is free-range chicken the same as organic?
- The benefits of free-range chicken
- Why free-range chicken can be more expensive
- Where to buy free-range chicken
How Do Free-Range Chickens Live?
In order for chickens to be considered free-range, the animals must be allowed access to the outdoors, according to the USDA. However, the USDA’s definition of free-range is very general and some farmers may still keep their chickens stuck in a confined space up to 20 or so hours a day. That’s why it’s important to look into exactly how the “free-range” a company’s animals really are.
Are Free-Range Chicken Healthier and Happier?
Free-range chickens are able to roam around, get fresh air and have contact with other chickens with the ability to get sunshine and exercise. As most animals would naturally prefer this lifestyle vs. being cooped up in a small space, it’s no secret that the chickens prefer a free-range lifestyle.
Is Free-Range Chicken The Same As Organic?
Most people make the mistake of placing free-range chickens and organic chickens in the same category. However, this is not always the case. When it comes to free-range chickens vs. organic chickens, there are a few differences. Chickens categorized as free-range are given a certain amount of time outside on the pasture, but some companies still count on traditional feed to feed the chickens. However, a lot of free-range chickens get plenty of nutrients from grazing off of the grass and insects around the fields. Free-range, pasture-raised chickens are the keywords you want to look for.
Organic chicken, on the other hand, must be fed only certified organic feed. This organic feed is grown without artificial fertilizer or pesticides. Organic chickens may never even receive any kind of hormones or antibiotics.
The Benefits of Free-Range Chickens
Some of the benefits of free-range chickens include:
1. A Great Source of Protein
It’s no secret that chicken is a great source of protein. Whether you’re following a diet based on macronutrients, a paleo-based diet, or a keto-friendly diet, chicken is a safe bet regardless of lifestyle. In fact, just one chicken breast alone can supply up to 52 percent of most people’s protein needs for the day[*].
Why is protein important? For starters, it’s the building block of all tissue found in your body. Getting enough protein in your diet is key for maintaining proper immune system, function, repairing and building muscle, and other critical biological functions.
2. Free-Range Chickens Make Healthier Eggs
It’s thought that free-range chickens produce healthier eggs as well. How? Free-range chickens produce much more nutrient-dense eggs than conventionally caged chickens. One study actually showed that free-range eggs contain less cholesterol and saturated fat along with more vitamin A, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids[*].
3. Free-Range Chickens Don’t Disrupt Hormones
One study examined the effects of conventional chicken feed on female animal subjects. They looked at the effects of commercial chicken feed, conventional chicken meat or organic chicken meat. The researchers evaluated the effects by measuring the animal’s growth rate percentage and cholesterol levels as well as their hormone levels including progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen.
The researchers found that consuming commercial chicken feed and commercial chicken meat resulted in increased cholesterol and an imbalance in hormones. The study concluded that conventional chicken feed may increase an individual’s risk of developing polycystic ovary syndrome in females due to hormonal imbalance[*].
4. Free-Range Chickens May Taste Better
Free-range chickens may taste better. When it comes to the taste of free-range chickens, many people prefer it over conventionally-raised chickens. One reason for this could be that the chickens are able to consume a diet more abundant in nutrients as well as being able to exercise.
But with the added nutritional benefits, there comes a price.
Why Free-Range Pasture-Raised Chicken Can Be More Expensive
It seems as though the healthier you want to eat, the more expensive the food becomes. But it’s all in the quality. Pasture-raised chickens are often listed at a higher price compared to conventional chicken, but its only because there is so much care put into the production. When it comes to producing free-range chicken for consumption, the labor costs are 10 to 20 times higher for range hens.
Some of the reasons for the higher cost include:
- Free-range hens are typically larger hens that have a greater feed consumption
- The colder outdoor temperatures the chickens are exposed to also require them to consume more feed
- The free-range chickens have a lower production rate due to nutrient partitioning and mortality from potential predators
Where To Buy Free-Range Chicken
If you’re scoping out where to buy your free-range chicken from, make sure you do your research. As previously mentioned, the USDA rules regarding how long chickens are meant to be kept outside to graze are rather vague. Some companies keep their chickens outside the minimal amount just so they can label their poultry as free-range. That’s why you have to keep an eye out.
At US Wellness Meats, our free-range poultry is raised on pasture with a delicious salad bar of grasses, legumes, and insects. This diet of greens guarantees a healthier chicken, therefore, healthier eggs and a healthier option for yourself and your family.
Along with their nutritious diet, our free-range chickens consume no added hormones or antibiotics during their happy lives outdoors.
The Bottom Line on Free-Range Chicken
As more and more research begins to surface regarding the importance of consuming free-range and pasture-raised animals vs. conventionally-raised animals, it’s no secret that free-range chickens are the healthier, more sustainable option for both the consumers and the environment.
The saying, “you are what you eat” is more relevant than ever. Think about it. You want to consume high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, so why settle for a chicken raised off of grains and hormones?
Make the switch from conventional chicken to free-range, pasture-raised chicken today.
Steph Lodge is a writer, competitive weightlifter and nutritional consultant with a passion for health and wellness. She is the founder of The Athlete’s Kitchen, a website dedicated to providing its audience with articles, recipes and the latest nutritional information on their favorite foods.