What Does Pasture Raised Mean?
At Pasturebird, we take great pride in the fact that the way we do business and the way we raise our chickens is part of a bigger picture that benefits our customers, our animals, and our company. We started this company out of a desire to know where our food was coming from, because we were pretty jaded from misleading and greenwashed labels in our grocery stores. That vegetarian-fed or free range chicken and eggs that we willingly paid more for, convinced that we were purchasing the most humane and nutrient dense food for our family? It turns out those labels can be pretty misleading.
Our founder, Farmer Paul, is a pretty "take-charge" kind of guy. So when he and his family became pretty disillusioned with the quality of their food and the misleading labeling, they decided to raise their own chickens! What began as a small family business with about 50 chickens has quickly grown into one of the largest pasture raised chicken operations in the World.
Your Food Labels Aren’t Always What They’re Cracked Up to Be
You might be wondering what makes pasture raised chicken different from any of the other chicken labels you see in the store. We get it - there are so many labels out there, and each one has a snazzy marketing team behind it to make you think that particular product is the best one you can buy. Is pasture raised chicken really any different than free range, vegetarian fed, or organic?
First, let’s break down what exactly those labels mean.
- Free range - as defined by the USDA, “free range” birds must have access to the outdoors. That’s it. There is no space requirement for the birds, and that “outdoor access” can consist of a small pop hole in the barn that no chicken can actually squeeze its whole body through, or that leads to a concrete slab instead of a grassy field. The words “free range” sound bucolic and bring to mind fields of free-roaming chickens, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While there are conscious farmers out there that follow the spirit of the definition and give their birds true outdoor access, 99% of the chickens raised in the United States are raised in factory farms that follow just enough of the law to be compliant, but put more emphasis on turning a quick profit than raising happy birds.
- Vegetarian fed - this may be our least favorite marketing schtick. Why? Because chickens are not vegetarians!! Chickens must be fed a vegetarian chicken feed to be labeled organic. This is to preclude them from being fed low-grade chicken feed containing animal byproducts, which can indeed be harmful if they’re not of high quality. If chickens are able to supplement this vegetarian feed by foraging on pasture for their natural omnivore food sources such as insects, small mammals, reptiles, and plants, then the end result is a happy, healthy chicken. But as we know, this is very rarely the case. Instead, vegetarian fed chickens end up lacking essential nutrients that often must be supplemented. It’s crazy if you think about it - rather than allowing chickens to forage for their natural food sources, the factory farming process takes the natural sources of those nutrients away, and then gives them back in synthetic form…doesn’t make much sense, does it?
- Organic - while shifting to an organic diet is admirable, when it comes to organic meat, it may be surprising to learn that organic isn’t always the best bet. The organic label can be somewhat misleading, because while organic chicken is definitely healthier for humans due to the absence of chemicals and pesticides, it’s not necessarily healthier for chickens. As we mentioned above, in order to be labeled “USDA Organic” the chicken had to have been fed a vegetarian diet, but chickens are not naturally meant to eat a vegetarian diet, and forcing them to do so is depriving them of nutrients crucial to their health and development.
What Makes Pasture Raised Different?
So, what exactly does pasture raised mean, and how is it different from the other labels you see on chicken? For starters, access to the outdoors isn’t just theoretical for pasture raised chicken. Chickens raised on pasture spend actual time outdoors, with a minimum of 108 square feet per chicken (there are no space requirements for free range birds, as a comparison.) While 108 square feet may not sound like much to a human, it’s pretty spacious for a chicken! Access to the outdoors is just one of the many perks that pasture raised chickens enjoy. While outside, they get to peck, scratch, forage, and behave as chickens were meant to do. This unfettered access to a nutrient dense, natural diet not only improves chicken’s health during their lifetime, but it results in more nutritious meat for consumers. In fact, pasture raised chicken has been shown to have 50% more vitamins A and E than conventionally raised chicken, as well as being lower in saturated fat and 3 times higher in omega 3s.
The truth is, modern farming methods and the depletion of nutrients in soil have had an adverse effect on the nutrient density of our food. According to an article published on ScientificAmerican.com, “modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows. Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before.” That’s why at Pasturebird, we use regenerative agricultural methods that emphasize soil health and environmental conservation. We aim to leave the soil better than we found it, and as a result, we know that our chickens are foraging on a chemical free, nutrient dense pasture and obtaining as many nutrients as possible through a varied diet.
There’s no shortage of access to fresh air and sunlight for a pasture raised chicken. Our chickens are housed outside 24/7/365 in a floorless mobile coop that is moved to fresh pasture every day.
So what does pasture raised mean? To us, pasture raised means healthier and humanely raised chickens, raised using regenerative agricultural practices that focus on going beyond sustainability and conservation to actually regenerate the land and leave it better than we found it. Simply put, pasture raised is just a better way to raise chickens - better for the land, better for the chickens, and better for our consumers.