Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pastured Poultry

The Pastured Poultry web site has a lot of good information.  The definitions below come from it. I wasn't able to determine who wrote them. 

I was reminded of the confusion when I watched this amusing YouTube video

This pair of Brahmas are happy on pasture.
The terms "free-range poultry" and "pastured poultry" are commonly used among both consumers and producers of eggs and poultry meat. But these terms carry different connotations depending on who is doing the talking and who is doing the listening. With the exception of the term "free-range", there are no legal definitions of any term relating to the methods of rearing of poultry in the United States. This has resulted in the creation of numerous terms and subsets of terms that have brought confusion to the producer, the marketer and the consumer of poultry. 

Problems with the term "Free Range."
The USDA definition of "free-range" is rather vague. In order to label their meat and poultry "free-range or free-roaming", "Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside." (1) No mention of vegetation (pasture) is made. Poultry producers themselves seem to have no common standards on what the term means.  Some producers interpret "access to the outside" as a small pop-door (chicken door) on an end-wall of a 100 ft. long shed filled with un-caged birds moving about freely on a litter-covered floor. Others feel they are compliant with the spirit of free-range if their birds are outside in the fresh air and sunshine; even if their "range" is bare dirt.
When it comes to the consumer's perception of "free-range", arguably the vision that "free-range" most often conjures is of an un-fenced bird happily hunting and pecking in the grass. Because of the wholesomeness associated with the term "organic", many consumers take for granted that all certified organic poultry raised for meat and eggs are raised outside on green pasture. Sadly, this is not so. The term "free-range" is not even listed in the NOP (National Organic Program) "terms defined."(6) They do give guidelines that say: "All organically raised animals must have access to the outdoors..."(2) So when someone purchases poultry products labeled "free range" or "organic", the birds may never have actually seen the light of day or green grass its entire life. Technically, they simply have to have a door out of their confinement, but they don't have to necessarily walk through that door to meet the requirements.
When "Free Range" means "pastured"

The fourth edition of the American Heritage College Dictionary (8) defines "pasture", the noun, as, "A tract of land that supports grass or other vegetation eaten by domestic grazing animals." "Pastured", the verb, is defined by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition as, "To herd (animals) into a pasture to graze."  "Free-range", as defined by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (9), is an adjective descriptive "Of, relating to, or produced by animals, especially poultry, that range freely for food, rather than being confined in an enclosure: (as in) free-range chickens"
Some poultry growers, in keeping with the spirit of the definition above, actually keep their birds outside (as the season and daylight hours permit), utilizing a movable or stationary house for shelter and keeping the birds on fresh-growing palatable vegetation.
As a subset of "free-range", terms such as "day-range" and "net-range" are also currently being used by poultry producers. Andy Lee coined the term "day-range", which is interchangeable with "net-range". In his book Day Range Poultry (7) he describes the system of using electrified netting to fence a predator-resistant area around a portable chicken house. The chickens are locked in the house at night. As the netting and the housing are portable, the chickens can be on fresh pasture at all times. Many producers making use of this system use the terms "free-range" and "day-range" interchangeably.
Another term in popular usage within the United States is "pastured poultry". This term is highly associated with Joel Salatin, author of the popular book, "Pastured Poultry Profits (5)". Pastured does not seem to be a term applied to poultry outside of North America but in the U.S., the term as used among poultry producers generally conveys the use of Salatin's methods. Floorless pens of 10 X 12 X 2 foot high are moved (once or twice daily) around a green pasture. The birds have access to fresh air, grass and insects but are also protected from predators. Many producers have modified the pen size and configuration to better suit their own needs, but the basic method involved in raising "pastured poultry" remains.

A Functional Definition of "Pastured Poultry"
Because of the loose definition of "free range," we prefer to use the term "pastured poultry." This would include those growers using the "Salatin type" of moveable pens, or other types such as "day range." So our definition would be: "Birds are kept outside (as the season and daylight hours permit), utilizing a movable or stationary house for shelter, and they have constant access to fresh-growing palatable vegetation." Pastured Poultry farmers generally have "seasons" when they raise their poultry, depending on where they live in the US. Growers in the north do not raise birds in the winter months when the ground is covered with snow, and growers in the Deep South typically do not raise birds in the heat of the summer when mortality rates are high.


Mike Badger said...

You're writing about what I call the free range fallacy. Thank you. People who raise chickens should abandon the term and let the CAFO operations have it.

If you follow Salatin's advice, then the definition of pastured poultry becomes fairly easy. Pasture-raised chickens, turkeys, etc, live a majority of their lives on green pasture using a managed rotation. The managed rotation is the key and is embodied by the daily move shelters and the day range systems. Lots of reasons for rotation: recovery of pasture, health of bird, cleanliness of birds, forage, etc.

Broilers are the easy example. They leave the brooder between 2 and 4 weeks old. They live on pastured until they're 8 - 12 weeks, longer for heritage birds.

Hens are seasonally pastured and in the cold weather they move inside a house with deep bedding.

Small-scale chicken producers and backyard flocks should adopt pastured poultry and follow its principles. While not impossible, I believe it will be quite a challenge for the big chicken industry to adulterate pastured poultry like they have (legally) done to organic and free range.

American Pastured Poultry Producers Association

PoultryBookstore said...

Thanks, Mike!We're engaged in an educational process with the public, too. The more people, know, the better our food will get.