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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote®: How Free Is A Free-Range Chicken?

Air Date: Week of

Free-range chickens do not always have full access to open pastures. Even outdoor time totalling a few minutes a day can earn chickens the free-range designation. (Photo: Washington State Department of Agriculture CC)

When it comes to buying meat, certifications can be confusing. The term “free-range” chicken sounds good, but what exactly does it mean? If you’re looking for humanely raised poultry, there are a few labels to be aware of, BirdNote’s® Mary McCann tells us.



CURWOOD: One of the many creatures that Sy Montgomery has learned from are her backyard chickens, or the ladies, as she calls them. The humble chicken is also the subject of this week’s BirdNote from Mary McCann.

How Free Is a Free-range Chicken?

Chickens are awake and ready to go well before dawn...

[Rooster crowing]

… and they start foraging at the first glimmer of morning light. They are laying eggs while you are still sipping your morning coffee.

[Chickens clucking]

But what exactly is a “free range” chicken? Next time you’re at the grocery store, take a look at the labels. According to the USDA, which regulates food labeling, “free range” or “free roaming” chickens need only be allowed some kind of access to the outside. That could mean all-day access to a lush pasture, or a tiny enclosure behind a door open for just a few minutes a day.

When chickens are raised “free-range,” their diet can be composed of different bugs and vegetation found in your own backyard. (Photo: Adam Chandler CC)

What if the label says “humanely raised”? It turns out, the standards behind that labeling can also vary quite a lot.
So if you wish to eat truly free-range chickens or eggs, how do you know what to look for?

Chickens raised for meat or eggs — that spend their days outside pecking for bugs, grubs, and fresh green vegetation — are best known as pastured poultry.

Look for labels that show the chicken was pasture raised or “Animal Welfare Approved.” If you can, buy from a local farmer. Or, if you have a big back yard, maybe even try raising your own chickens at home!
(Chickens clucking)
Your decisions at the grocery store can really make a difference – for local farmers and chickens alike.
I’m Mary McCann
Written by Bob Sundstrom
Chicken sounds recorded by C Peterson
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2018 Tune In to Nature.org November 2018 Narrator: Mary McCann
Pasture-raised labeling

What is a “real” free-range chicken?

CURWOOD: For pictures, flock on over to our website, LOE.org



Learn more on the BirdNote website

What that “Animal-Welfare Approved” certification really means


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