Whether you’re familiar with the concept of pasture raised meat or are learning about it for the first time, you may wonder what exactly makes pasture raised chickens so different from their conventionally-raised counterparts and what is life like for a chicken raised on pasture? You may have heard about the added nutritional value that pasture raised chicken provides, or the fact that raising chickens on pasture both conserves and gives back to the land on which they live through a process known as regenerative agriculture. But you may not know the why behind these facts.
Why exactly do we raise our chickens on pasture? Is it because it’s easier, or less expensive? No. Raising animals on pasture requires dedication and a focus on the importance of not only producing a profit, but also on ensuring that our farm prioritizes the health and welfare of our chickens, and the land on which they graze.
To better understand what makes pasture raised chickens so distinct from conventional barn-raised birds, let’s examine what life is like for a chicken raised on pasture.
What is Life Like for a Chicken Raised on Pasture?
While conventionally raised chickens are crammed close together, most often in cages, and rarely (if ever) allowed access to the outdoors, life for a pasture raised chicken is WAY different.
Here Comes the Sun...
One of the biggest differences in a pasture raised bird’s life is that they are given ample time outdoors. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how little (if at all!) a barn raised chicken sees of fresh air and sunshine. Even free range chickens are only technically required to be given access to the outdoors, but the fine print doesn’t specify that they actually need to be allowed to roam freely for any period of time. If there’s a door in the barn, those chickens can be called free range, whether or not they ever actually set their little feet outdoors.
By contrast, pasture raised chickens spend most of their day outdoors, in a safe movable coop that allows them to forage and explore while still keeping them safe from predators. Pasture raised birds are allowed to live as chickens were meant to live; pecking and scratching at the earth to forage for insects, worms, seeds, and a variety of natural goodness that makes life better for the birds, and their meat more nutritious for the consumer.
At Pasturebird, our chickens live outside 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in a floorless mobile coop that protects them from inclement weather and predators but allows them access to an unlimited amount of fresh air, sunshine, and soil to forage on. Our coops are so spacious that a grown human can stand up in one comfortably, so you can be sure that our chickens have plenty of air circulation and room to move. We believe in the practice of ethical omnivorism, honoring the animals that provide our food, and making sure they have the best life possible.
As a result, our chickens are healthier, and their meat is more nutritious. While the grocery store packages may tout “eggs from vegetarian fed hens”, the truth is, chickens are not vegetarians. All that a vegetarian diet means for a chicken is that it was fed store-bought, grain-based feed, and not allowed to supplement its diet by foraging for bugs, worms, seeds, and nuts, the way chickens were meant to do. These foods, plentiful in a pasture raised diet, provide ample nutrition for the chickens, which in turn results in meat packed with way more nutrients than barn raised chicken.
Our Chickens Give Back
Pasture raised chickens may not know it, but their mere existence is giving back to the earth, in a process known as regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture goes beyond conservation and sustainability to actually reverse climate change and replenish the soil. Our chickens are moved to fresh pasture daily, and once a section of pasture has been grazed, we allow the vegetation to grow back before moving the coop back to that location. As the chickens forage, their droppings help the soil recover, increasing soil fertility as the manure gets worked into the ground. The manure is allowed to sit and replenish the soil, and the plant life is allowed to regrow before the chickens are moved back to that particular grazing area.
Chicken manure, when allowed to break down and compost, provides the soil with crucial organic matter and nutrients. The healthier the soil, the healthier the crops that grow on the soil, and the resulting healthy plants, with strong root systems, provide the soil with an even greater concentration of organic matter, allowing the grazed pastureland to actually be healthier after grazing than it was before! The addition of organic matter to the soil increases its properties of absorption, allowing it to make more efficient use of water and decrease the need for irrigation.
Raising chickens on pasture not only provides a better life for the chickens, but it provides a healthier alternative for the land as well. When no attention is paid to ensuring the health and fertility of soil, eventually the soil becomes depleted. As a result, its crop yield is diminished, and soil erosion intensifies without a barrier of crops to slow it down.
Pasture Raised Poultry Gets Back to Basics
Far from being a new concept, regenerative agriculture and raising animals on pasture actually dates back hundreds of years - it’s how farming began! Prior to the rise of industrial agricultural practices, all animals were raised on pasture, and allowed to graze and forage. Indigenous populations recognized the importance of preserving biodiversity and practiced crop rotation, permaculture, and water management to replenish and conserve the soil. It’s these long-proven methods that inspired us in our journey, and our desire to practice responsible regenerative agriculture while producing a product that we are proud to feed our own families are the driving forces behind Pasturebird’s mission.
What is life like for a chicken raised on pasture? We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel by raising our chickens on pasture - we’re just trying to prioritize responsible farming practices, animal welfare, and the health of our consumers by raising chickens that are happy, healthy, nutritious, and whose livelihoods give back to the land that we raise them on.