Free Range Poultry: What you need to know

By now you probably have seen “Free Range” labeling on some poultry products in your grocery stores.  Free Range products are marked up in comparison to the traditional products, sometimes to twice the price!  Have you ever purchased any of this high priced meat?  If so, after reading this, it may be the last time you pay the extra money for meat.

The definition of Free Range according the the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), is a type of animal husbandry where the animals are allowed to roam freely outdoors for part of the day.  The details of this is left up to the poultry producers.

On our family farm, which would be considered by today’s standards as a factory farm, at one point raised Free Range turkeys.  We raised around 30,000 turkeys in a single barn, keep in mind that each barn was the size of about two football fields.  In order to qualify for the Free Range standards, we simply opened the doors at the end of the barn and fenced in a very small area. So we had 30,000 birds who could utilize this small area if they wanted to be outside.  Crazy, and ridiculous I know.  However, we met the qualifications for Free Range poultry.

Through this experience though, I realized, that we were providing the most comfortable environment for the turkeys inside the barn.  Only about four to five birds ever went outside at any given time.  Most times, none were outside at all.  Don’t you think that they would spend their time where it was most comfortable and least stressful?  Well they did, and it was inside the barns.

Inside our poultry barns, which were not state of the art by any means (they have since been updated to state of the art facilities), the environment was strictly controlled in order to provide the most comfortable environment possible for the birds.  The barns were also clean and disease free to ensure the health of the birds.  If you were not aware, animal comfort is directly connected to the profitability of the farm.  I will blog about this more in depth in a future post.  If the temperature would somehow get too hot or too cold, an alarm would be triggered to call our cell phones so we could resolve the problem immediately.  We made sure that the birds were comfortable and stress free.

Outside the barns, the temperatures could fluctuate greatly and there was exposure to high winds at times.  There should be no surprise as to why the birds chose to stay inside.

So lets get back to the prices of Free Range products.  What exactly are you paying extra for?  Do you find this to be more humane?  I’d encourage you to talk to a farmer and ask him/her about how important animal comfort is to them.  The media likes to find videos of unsustainable farms that represent the worst of the farming industry.  Don’t be so easily fooled.  Spend a little time with a farmer and learn the truth.

Today we no longer raise Free Range turkeys. The company that sold the Free Range birds was unsustainable due to the high prices that most consumers cannot afford. We now raise broiler chickens in state of the art facilities. These facilities have water cooled air intake panels and tunnel ventilation. Between each flock the barns are cleaned and disinfected completely. Our family farm or factory farm raises chickens with the highest level of animal comfort. I would like to point out that we are not the only farm like this. If one farm pushes the envelope, they all do to stay competitive and deliver quality meat to consumers.

Feel free to leave your comments.  If you have questions I’d be happy to answer them.  Thanks for reading.