Pastured-Poultry Myths

Elmwood Stock Farm offers wholesome, organic food year-round, but as Mac explained earlier, some of the livestock we raise on the farm is seasonal. Our broiler chickens, in particular, are in a seasonal system. Here in Central Kentucky, the winters are just too cold to keep these Cornish Cross birds outdoors. Rather than cave to the pressures of industry and raise those chickens in confinement, we prefer to stick to our belief that chickens should be kept on pasture, where they can forage for grubs and seeds, roam their predator-proof enclosure, and enjoy the sunshine (and shade). 

The last set of our broiler chickens will arrive on the farm soon. They will spend a week or so in the brooder barn so they can get their bearings as new chickens and their feathers can grow in, and then they will head to the pasture, where they’ll be rotated to new ground from day to day.

We talk about offering “pasture-raised” chicken to our customers, but what pasture-raised means can raise some confusion—which is why it’s best to source your food from a farmer whose practices you can learn about and trust. To find chicken labeled as being pasture-raised means it was raised on pasture, of course, though there is no standard governing the use of that label. 

There are several things that being pasture-raised does not guarantee, which is important to understand, whether you’re sourcing your pasture-raised chicken and turkey from Elmwood Stock Farm or elsewhere. Here 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. While all organically produced chickens are required to have access to pasture, not all chicken 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. At Elmwood Stock Farm, everything we produce follows USDA NOP standards.

Myth 2: Pastured poultry have the run of the farm.

Mac has talked about our chicken tractors and the predator-protection measures we take to 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). Pasture-raised chickens have the ability to forage for grubs and seeds, scratch in the dirt, and roam. 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.

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