Labels continue to cause confusion to us consumers who just want to eat the best foods and support the most sustainable practices. The myriad of egg and poultry labels are not any easier to sift through. This blog will share with you the most important of everything we have learned about poultry farming & sustainable agriculture, as well as how to find what is best for you, your family, and the environment.
First off- Stay away from Cage Free. This is just another way of saying, “raised in a barn.” No animal is supposed to be raised in a barn. Sunlight (UVA and UVB rays) is so essential to the well-being of most animals, including us humans. It is essential for enzyme production, vitamin and mineral assimilation, and helping ward off sporadic bacterial strands.
Do we actually get Vitamin D from the sun? In truth, we do not. The UVA and UVB rays simple influence the cholesterol in your blood to better assimilate and carry out the function of Vitamin D that we have ingested through our food. This goes the same for every animal species unless they are nocturnal or deep sea creatures. The genetic and molecular makeup of these animals do not require a heavy dosage of vitamin D to thrive and some may get enough assimilation from moonlight (reflection of the sun rays).
Now to the topic at hand. Free Range and Pasture Raised poultry are your best practices. They can even mean the same thing depending on the practice BUT can also be the complete opposite. In the end, especially for free range, you must always KNOW THE SOURCE. Free range simply means the birds roam freely while always having access to grain feed. BUT and this is a huge BUT…. they can be raised on a dirt lot, on grass, in the woods, or in tight confinement. If a bird is being fed and given water indoors, then they may just stay indoors even with having 24 hour access to the outdoors. Artificial lighting is installed to simulate sunlight so the animals may decide to just stay inside. Conventional farmers do this to protect their animals from predators and speed up their weight gain. This is unnatural. They can still be considered free range because they are not being forced but instead influenced.
You should also attempt to KNOW THE SOURCE of your pasture raised birds as the USDA has established their own guidelines to this. E.G. Animals can now be considered pasture raised if there is a certain sq. ft. of available grass per "unit"…. With no one to monitor this every day, this is obviously a paid for influence by the leading poultry producers in the country to upsell their goods and compete with smaller farmers doing their practice more intimately and appropriately to the natural conditions these animals thrive in. In short, the USDA gets paid by big producers and since most USDA reps know absolutely nothing about farming, they are simply influenced by what the producers make or pay them to believe. Just another example of how money has destroyed people’s integrity.
Since poultry are non-ruminant animals, they can digest and synthesize minerals from most plants, protein, and grain based foods. Unfortunately, a diet dominant in one of these items can deplete the bioavailability of other important minerals and vitamins they would acquire from a diet more equally diverse. Therefore, Pasture Raised or even wild poultry are the best sources of poultry. They feed on grass, grubs, insects, compost, vegetables, and grain and are required to have the freedom to expose themselves to sunlight at their leisure. In most US farming practices, these animals are forced to eat only what is available to them. If the minerals, vitamins, and sunlight are not in comparison to their natural environment, then the quality of the meat is depleted, and the flavor, texture, and health benefits are most certainly compromised. In extreme cases, like most factory farming operations, they can cause more harm than good. A lack of mineral and vitamin absorption can cause a lot of free radicals in the meat of the animals, cause quick oxidation, and a unhealthy buildup of histamines which can hurt the bird as well as the end consumer.
Free Range can be just as good as Pasture Raised if the conditions allow for 24-hour outdoor access (no barns but instead coops), and the grounds in which they feed have all the qualities to provide them with a diverse diet rich in the minerals, vitamins, and elements needed to thrive. So, in the poultry practice, it is ALWAYS BEST to KNOW YOUR FARMER. Forget the store-bought brands…. Even with a fancy website and advertisements like hormone and antibiotic free, they can really mislead you with non-regulated verbiage and USDA labels. Instead, GO TO YOUR LOCAL FARM and ask questions.
Some additional points to remember.
Antibiotic Free means nothing. Poultry NEVER need antibiotics as they do not live long enough, prior to harvest, for the antibiotics to produce the antibodies needed to ward of disease. So disregard Purdues advertisement, its misleading on purpose.
Hormone Free is Important. Hormones are injected into the animals in bigger farming practices to get them to harvest weight up to 3 times faster than your more humanely raised free range or pasture raised birds.
Vegetarian Fed Birds is Unnatural. These omnivores get ample health benefits from insects and or other living microorganisms they get from soil, grasses, and vegetables they eat.
USDA Organic Fed Chicken is just OK. This could simply mean a vegetarian fed confined eating environment. If a bird roams freely and eats what they choose, who can really monitor thousands of birds to ensure everything they are eating is “organic?”
If store bought, then you ALWAYS want Pasture Raised & Hormone Free. BUT only trust this if you are in a jam and cannot make the time to support your local producers.
It’s Always Best to KNOW YOUR FARMER.