Chicken Feed: What is "Free-Range"?

Read the "Free-Range Poultry" Website's Definitions of the Terms Free-Range, Pastured-Poultry, and Chicken-Tractor (Click Here)

The "Free-Range" Debate

From Galenet at, available through your local county library

"When it comes to "cage-free" and "free-range" chickens, the debate gets pretty nuanced. At Organic Valley, a family of farms across the U.S., the hens are said to be free-range. According to a package insert, that means five feet of green space per bird outside and two feet inside, as well as natural sunlight inside the hen house. Egg Innovations, also a farmer's cooperative, produces several varieties of eggs, including cage-free. All of the company's eggs are "Free-Farmed," a label monitored by the American Humane Association. This label promises that the chickens are "free from any unnecessary fear and distress; free from unnecessary pain, injury and disease; free from hunger and thirst; and free from unnecessary discomfort." The company says its policy is to put animals first, over the dictates of profit.

"Pete and Gerry's shies away from using the term free-range. "We think it's misleading to call them free-range," says LaFlamme. "We call them cage-free since it's not really realistic for them to be going outside in the winter in New Hampshire. They go outside when weather permits." A relatively rare label, "pasture-fed eggs," is applied to hens that are fed grains and also forage outside for wild plants and insects."

Chicken-Feed Comments: Of course, "pasture-fed eggs" is where it's at! Chickens need "Grains, Greens, and Protein" as we've said all along. Also, we agree with Pete and Gerry's: it is misleading to use the term "free range" for cage-free, dirt-floored chickens. "Cage-Free" can, and almost always does, mean that the chickens are in a huge barn without a blade of grass or other pasture. Or at best, they are outside on dirt, again without grass or any other living thing. They will devour living things, both grass and animal, within their range, so their outdoor space must be carefully regulated so that there is always enough living grass (with insects, etc.) per bird.

We would very much like the FDA to establish very clear definitions of the terms "Free-Range" and "Pastured Poultry."

so that the words "free range" can only be used to indicate chickens that are actually freely roaming and feeding on real, living "range" (or pasture, or meadow) grass and its associated insects and other life forms. "Range" means grassland fertile enough that it is capable of supporting livestock. If it can't support livestock, it is not range. Pastured poultry is also an extremely healthful way to raise poultry. The essential difference between "free-range" and "pastured" poultry is that of confinement. Pastured poultry is confined, so does not get to exercise as fully as free-range poultry does. Both get abundant living range or meadow grass. Both (as of today) also get grain supplementation feed.

Pastured Poultry

Another method of raising poultry is also superbly healthful, and that is "Pastured Poultry." This method is where the chickens that are raised in low-slung, bottomless cages, which are moved to a new spot on living grassland approximately once or twice a day. On this "pasture" they eat meadow grasses and other plants, insects, varied soil ingredients living and non-living, and within the cage they are also fed grain, which they need, and given water and other free-choice ingredients. There are several different ways to accomplish this pastured-poultry system.


As applied to poultry, the term "free range" means only chickens whose coop is temporarily positioned (or, if fenceless, then it can be permanently positioned) in the middle of range pasture, and the extent of the area they have denuded of grass is not more than a few feet from the coop (The Free-Range Poultry website says 5 feet of denuding means time to move the coops). The essential factor in "free-range" feeding is that the chickens are able to feed on the surrounding fresh range pasture as often as they want during their free-choiced feeding hours, which should be more than half the daylight hours, every day. "Range and/or pasture" here is defined as land on which grasses and other associated plants and insects are growing in abundance sufficient to support livestock.

Chicken-Feed website would like to suggest these three additional marketing terms be clearly defined.

"Grass-Fed" ~~~ "Grass-Finished" ~~~ "100% Grass-Fed"

Many feel that these terms should properly be reserved for ruminants (cows, sheep, others whose natural diet consists almost entirely of range grass). Many others feel that the term "grass-fed" can be applied to poultry. "Grass-finished" would not apply to poultry, however, only to ruminants.

The difference between the terms is that, while a ruminant animal may be fed only grass for most of its life, its last few weeks or months are often spent in a feed-lot where it lives exclusively on grain-mixed diet and no fresh grass at all. The term "grass-finished" means that the animal is kept on 100% range pasture until slaughter, never put into a feed-lot.

When an animal is put into a feedlot, the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in its system declines dramatically. (See the chart titled "Omega 3's Vanish in the Feedlot" at

There are a very few poultry raisers who are feeding their chickens ONLY grass and its associated insect and other life, with no grain supplementation at all. The term "100% grass-fed" would be appropriate in this type of poultry production.

If you would like to assist in the U.S. effort to give the term "free-range" a legal description so that it cannot be used indiscriminately in marketing, please write to your Congressman and say so.

For a current list of Congressmen, Click Here.

Addressing the envelope of your letter:
To the Senate:  
	The Hon. _________________
	United States Senate
	Washington, DC 20510

To the House of Representatives:
	The Hon. _________________
	House of Representatives
	Washington, DC 20510
The Salutation of your letter:

Simply starting with "Dear Mr. (or Mrs.)____________________" is fine

A letter is much more effective if signed by three people instead of one, because your Congressman will know your are organized, and you will discuss this issue (and his name!) in your community. If you also give a copy of this letter to your local library, your Congressman will know that a copy of the letter may be on file for the community to read. At the bottom of your Congressman's letter, add the line:
"cc: Head Librarian, _______________ Public Library"

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

The following Senators on this committee have received contribution from the Poultry and Egg industries. If you are in their state, your letter can do a lot of good.
Wayne Allard (R-Colo)  
Max Baucus (D-Mont)  
Thad Cochran (R-Miss)*  
Kent Conrad (D-ND)  
Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)  
Tom Daschle (D-SD)  
Mark Dayton (D-Minn)  
Peter G. Fitzgerald (R-Ill)  
Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)  
Jesse Helms (R-NC)  
Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark)  *****
Patrick Leahy (D-Vt)  
Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark)**  
Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind)**  
Mitch McConnell (R-Ky)  
Zell Miller (D-Ga)**  
Ben Nelson (D-Neb)  
Pat Roberts (R-Kan)*  
Deborah Ann Stabenow (D-Mich)  
Craig Thomas (R-Wyo)  
Paul Wellstone (D-Minn)  
(*'s indicate largest amounts of received contribution)

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