What is a free-range chicken? Is it healthier for you than conventional chicken? Is it organic? Here is what I have learned about the original white meat.
In this article, you will discover the health benefits of free-range chickens. You’ll learn the differences between free-range, organic, and conventionally raised chickens.
I’ll also provide you with details of which brands and companies I use and recommend for you to purchase your chicken.
My Top Free Range Organic Chicken Brands In 2019
|(4.5 / 5)|
*The companies chosen above are based upon my personal opinion based upon me giving them a try and testing their quality.
What Is Free Range Chicken?
In the most simplistic of terms, free-range chickens are free to roam and have access to forage for food in open spaces and feed on foods that complement their natural diets, rather than being cramped in a cage. To protect the flock from predators, farmers enclose them in a fence.
The USDA’s definition for free-range only applies to chicken. It does not refer to eggs, nor for other livestock, such as cattle.
According to the USDA, free-range chickens must have access to the outdoors for an unspecified period each day. This definition can mean two things: One, the chickens spend the majority of their lives outdoors, only returning to their coop for environmental or other factors; or two, the chickens spend the majority of their time indoors and have access to an opened door outside allowing them to forage outside for a certain amount of time per day.
In terms of farming organically or raising poultry humanely, the difference between the two definitions are apparent, but either situation meets the USDA standard.
Other than the USDA, the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) Certified Humane program is an organization that certifies farms for free-range chicken. If the HFAC approves a farms poultry as free-range, then the chickens spend six or more hours a day outdoors, and they have two square feet per bird in their living quarters.
What Is The Difference Between Free Range, Organic and Conventionally Raised Chicken?
When it comes to free-range, some people think that the chickens are outside all day running freely. That’s not exactly true; a producer has to prove to the USDA that their chickens have free access to go outside. This open-access does not necessarily guarantee that they are going outdoors when their food and water are inside. Free-range birds are healthier than those confined in cages, but they are not always antibiotic-free. So they are not organic.
The USDA National Organic Program has strict rules of what is considered organic chicken. According to their program, a producer must raise their chickens free of hormones and antibiotics, supply them with 100% certified organic feed, and provide access for them to roam in an open space. They must move freely, to exercise, and reduce stress. They are also allowed to receive preventative vaccines. (1) There are no regulations in place for the amount of time the chickens must spend outside, nor for the natural area that they roam around.
Organic chicken prices tend to be a little more expensive for consumers than its counterpart. Farmers have to take on the organic certification expense, so those costs are passed on to the consumer.
Conventional chickens are raised in factory farms and are packed and confined to close living quarters in cages. The cages that house hens that lay eggs hold six chickens and each bird is limited to only 67 square inches of space and sometimes less. (2)
This confinement provides for very unsanitary and unhealthy conditions for the chickens; leading to them becoming sick. When they become infected, the chickens are given antibiotics for a majority of their lives. The bad part about this is that supermarkets, restaurants, and your favorite fast-food chains sell these same antibiotic pumped chickens. 80% of antibiotics sold in the United States are advertised to treat sick animals and not sick people. (3)
Unlike free-range or organic chickens, conventionally raised birds do not roam freely indoors or outdoors. They typically don’t get to go outside at all.
Free Range Chicken Benefits
Below you’ll find five benefits of eating free-range chicken:
Healthier & A Great Source Of Protein
Free-range chicken has high protein content, which is excellent for the human body. Protein is known as the ‘building block of life.’ Without the appropriate amount of protein, the cells in your body will have a difficult time growing and repairing themselves as they are designed to do. Also, protein is especially crucial for kids and pregnant women. (4) Just eating one free-range chicken breast can provide about 52% of the majority of a person’s daily protein needs. (5,6)
Better Tasting Meat
Many consumers who have tried free-range chickens find that it tastes a lot better than conventionally raised chicken. A high-quality, natural diet that might be the reason for this. (7)
A study published in the Poultry Science journal took 600 chickens and divided them into three groups. Birds raised:
- Indoors without access to outdoors
- In man-made houses with outdoor access
- Provided with outdoor conditions shaded by trees.
According to the researchers, the chickens that had access to the outdoors with man-made shelters, along with the chickens with outdoor conditions covered by trees; produced more succulent, tender, and better-textured meat. The researchers have a belief that the daily exercise the chickens receive from being able to roam freely, contributes to their muscle development; which results in better meat flavor and texture. (8)
Free-ranged chickens not subjected to unsafe and stressful living conditions. Instead, producers raise them humanely and process them in a stress-free environment. Here are three things to look for when selecting a free-range chicken farmer or provider:
- Make sure the chicken houses or coops are cleaned and sanitized regularly and between litters.
- Look for short transit times from the farm to the plant.
- Ensure that they have a slow humane anesthesia process before slaughter.
One of the most straightforward ways to determine if a farm humanely raises their chickens is to research how open they are with their methods. If you find that they aren’t transparent with how they manage chickens, then it decreases the integrity of their product offerings.
Produce Healthier Eggs
Compared to conventionally raised caged hens, free-range hens are known to produce eggs that are more nutritionally dense. A 2007 study free-range eggs are healthier as compared to eggs from caged hens. The study showed that eggs produced from free-range hens offer: (9)
- ⅓ less cholesterol
- ¼ less saturated fat
- ⅔ more vitamin A
- Two times more omega-3
- Three times more vitamin E
- Seven times more beta-carotene
Free-Range Chickens Produce Fat-Free Meat
Artificial supplements and growth hormones can lead to chickens producing more fat in their muscles and skin; causing them to shrink while they cook. When a consumer eats this type of chicken, these dangerous supplements and hormones pass onto them. Remember, you are what you eat.
Free-range chickens are free of these artificial supplements and growth hormones, and they keep their size while cooking; allowing for more substantial serving portions and sizes. Therefore the meat that they produce is healthier and safer for human consumption.
What Do Organic Free Range Chickens Eat? Do They Need Feed?
What Is The Natural Diet Of A Chicken? Chickens are omnivores by design and should be consuming bugs, insects and grub. This natural diet produces eggs that are high in nutrients. So what about free-range chickens?
Free-range chickens get exercise, have a humane living environment, get plenty of water and maintain a healthy diet. Their natural diet consists of berries, seeds, insects, greens and grubs. Foraging for their food not only helps them to produce healthy eggs but it also provides the oil, protein, minerals, vitamins, and carbohydrates the chickens needs. It also helps them to burn more calories.
Where Should I Buy Free Range Organic Chicken Online?
I hope you enjoyed discovering the many health benefits that free-range chicken offers. Yes, it may be a little more expensive than your conventional types of chicken. In my opinion, it’s worth it when you look at the fact that it is an excellent source of protein. The eggs from free-range chickens are a healthier choice than some of its competitors. Finally, free-range chicken tastes better because of its higher-quality diet.
The company that I prefer to purchase my free-range organic chicken from is Butcher Box. I believe that they offer the highest quality of chicken. They are a great choice if you are new to humanely raised, high-quality chicken, looking to purchase for your family, and buying chicken from an online brand.
I recommend checking them out. You can read more about my buying experience in my ButcherBox review.
Sources For This Page:
1 – https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Poultry%20-%20Guidelines.pdf
2 – http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/weekinreview/20100815-chicken-cages.pdf
3 – http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForIndustry/UserFees/AnimalDrugUserFeeActADUFA/UCM476258.pdf
4 – http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/ency/articles/protein-in-diet
5 – http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/simple-truth-organic-chicken-breast-free-range-skinless-boneless-327891179
6 – https://www.dsld.nlm.nih.gov/dsld/dailyvalue.jsp
7 – https://food52.com/blog/14655-another-case-for-buying-organic-chicken
8 – http://newfoodeconomy.com/do-free-range-chickens-taste-better/
9 – http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/free-range-eggs-zmaz07onzgoe