As the Summer CSA wraps up and you consider how and where to source your food for the fall and winter, we hope you will take with you some of the knowledge you’ve gained this year about your food choices. (Also, we hope you’ve considered a Fall CSA Share with us.) Elmwood Stock Farm produces food year-round, and we offer this to you at farmers markets year-round in Lexington and Cincinnati, so we hope you will continue sourcing your organic, pasture-raised chicken from us there, of course. At the same time, we realize it can be hard to fit regular farmers-market attendance into your busy holiday-season schedule. As you go off to source food post-Summer-CSA, we hope you put your food knowledge to work.
We’ve spent a good deal of time going over what the term “organic” means but haven’t spent much time talking about what it means to have “pasture-raised” chicken. To find chicken with a pasture-raised claim means it was raised on pasture, of course. There are several things it does not mean, though. There are a few common misconceptions about pastured poultry:
Myth 1: All pastured poultry is organic.
In order to call a food item “organic,” it needs to meet the USDA National Organic Program standards, which we’ve covered a few times in the blog this year. While all organically produced chickens are required to have access to pasture, not all chicken being marketed as pasture-raised follow the other organic requirements. Farmers could be using chemical fertilizers or pesticides on their pastures or feed crops, feeding genetically modified feeds, or administering synthetic growth promotants to stimulate chickens’ weight gain.
Myth 2: Pastured poultry have the run of the farm.
You’ve read about our chicken tractors and the predator-protection measure we have to take as we make the chickens’ welfare a priority. Some pasture-kept chickens live in tall chicken tractors and are let out to day-range and then closed up at night, just like ours. Others live in 2-foot-high “Salatin-style” chicken tractors that are moved to fresh pasture on a regular basis. Some of the chickens that live in the tall tractors and most of the chickens that live in the Salatin-style pens aren’t let out during day for day ranging.
Myth 3: Cage-free chicken is pasture-raised chicken.
This might be the biggest misconception of them all. To start, chickens raised for meat are always cage-free; it’s the industrially farmed laying hens that are kept in cages. A “cage-free” label says nothing about a chicken’s access to the outdoors, so this animal could have been raised indoors (just not in a cage). Cage-free doesn’t mean the same thing as pasture-raised.
Before you purchase your next organic chicken, pasture-raised chicken, or organic and pasture-raised chicken, be sure you know your labels and, preferably, know your farmer so you can be sure you’re feeding your family what they ought to be eating.