Thursday, July 25News That Matters

Free Range, Cage-free, Organic, Pastured Chicken: What’s The Difference

Have you heard something called “Pastured Chicken” here in the Philippines? Almost 99% of eggs sold in the Philippine market come from layers confined in battery cages. But as consumers become more aware of the living conditions of these birds in battery cages on large poultry farms, there is a growing demand for meat and eggs from chickens treated humanely.

Chicken growers use several terms to call their flock, and sometimes, some of these terms are used to mislead the consumers. You will be presented with different labels when you shop for eggs in supermarkets like SM, Puregold, Robinsons, etc. There are “fresh farm organic eggs”, “cage-free”, free-range”, “premium fresh eggs”, and other terms. These terms are mainly used for marketing purposes. We all know that there are no fresh chicken eggs inside the supermarket. Whether you are buying chicken meat or eggs, we will discuss the difference between these terms in this article.

Free-range chicken
Free-range chicken

Free-range Chicken

In reality, the true free-range chickens are those raised in our backyard and are not confined inside the cage. These chickens have access to the outdoors. While free-range chickens have some opportunity to experience natural behaviors, how much opportunity is entirely unregulated and unmonitored? A majority of free-range birds do not venture outdoors because the outdoor environment is often simply a fenced porch with little to no grass, bushes, or worms. To put it simply, the real free-range chickens are those chickens roaming around our backyards.

Pros of free-range chicken

  • Free-range chickens may have access to the outdoors, get some sun, and spread their wings.
  • They can eat grass, insects, worms, and other natural food found on the ground.
  • They are not stressed because they are living in natural conditions.
  • They can play, fly, run, and do whatever they want.
  • They have healthy eggs and meat due to exercise and eat various foods.

Cons of free-range chicken

  • They are susceptible to diseases that could be transmitted from wild birds
  • They can get infected by contaminated land and water
  • Sometimes they are hard to catch

Cage-free Chicken

Cage-free is the same as free-range and differs only in terms. Cage-free means “outside the cage.” This term is used only by people who want an alternative term for free-range. The term “cage-free” is used by commercial growers, and “free-range” is used by backyard growers.

Often, chicken feed in large cage-free operations contains antibiotics to protect against the spread of disease amongst a large enclosed flock and hormones to increase egg production.

Pros of the Cage-Free Chicken

  • Cage-free chickens remain active and healthier because they can move about more than caged chickens.
  • Like free-range chickens, they are less likely to become obese.
  • Cage-free chickens have space to expand their feathers and roam freely.
  • Cage-free chickens are provided with food and water at various locations.

Cons of the Cage-Free Chicken

  • Cage-free chickens can attack and hurt each other.
  • Cage-free chickens’ beaks are often removed to prevent pecking and cannibalism amongst a large flock. Some see this as inhumane.
  • Cage-free chickens in large farms are more prone to viruses and diseases because of the tightly enclosed space.
  • Respiratory problems may arise due to poor ventilation

Pastured Chicken

Pastured poultry is similar to free-range poultry regarding access to the outdoors, except the birds are typically housed in a mobile coop with nest boxes, perches, and shelter. The coop is movable because if it and the flock were left in the same area, the poultry would eventually denude the pasture. A mobile coop can be easily moved to a new patch of pasture and let the older patch recover.

In a typical pastured system, the birds spend the night in the mobile coop and only have daytime access to the pasture. Keeping birds locked up at night reduces mortality from predators and is more secure than giving your flock 24/7 access to the outdoors.

Pastured chicken
Pastured chicken

This type of chicken raising is not used in the Philippines. It is mostly applied in the United States and Australia, where there are vast lands, and farmers can move their animals (including other livestock, especially goats) when the climate changes.

Pros of Pastured Chicken

  • Like free-range, the birds can experience natural living
  • They can always eat fresh vegetation and insects
  • They can be moved to another location when the weather changes
  • They are healthy

Cons of Pastured Chicken

  • Like free-range, they are susceptible to many diseases from the outdoors
  • They can be stressed during long travel

Caged Chicken (or Factory Chicken)

Caged chicken growing is the most common way by big poultry farms and corporations worldwide. Many people have criticized the process due to its inhumane treatment of animals.

Caged hens also suffer from the denial of many natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dustbathing, all important for hen welfare. Numerous scientists and other experts (PDF) have spoken clearly about the animal welfare problems with battery cages. One such scientist, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Konrad Lorenz, said:

The worst torture to which a battery hen is exposed is the inability to retire somewhere for the laying act. For the person who knows something about animals, it is truly heart-rending to watch how a chicken tries, again and again, to crawl beneath her fellow cagemates to search there in vain for cover.

Pros of Caged Chicken

  • There is no major advantage other than growing many chickens in a small space. Productivity-wise, this is an advantage for people to make profits.

Cons of Cage chicken

Everyone can think of at least one disadvantage of raising chickens inside cages, especially if you are into animal welfare.

  • Layers inside battery cages have limited movement.
  • Broilers confined with hundreds of others inside a small pen always suffer several diseases that sometimes die before their slaughter age.
  • Chickens can’t live naturally.
  • Their meat and eggs are less healthier than those of free-range
  • They have a limited variety of foods

Organic Chicken

Organic chickens are raised without feeding 100% commercial feeds, grow slowly, and are free-range. The Philippine national standards for organic poultry require chickens to grow for a minimum of 70 days, but most organic farming breeds need 3 to 4 months to reach the required slaughter weight.

If you plan to raise organic chicken, follow the following guidelines.

  • The diet of the broiler, layer, and native-type chickens should be at least 50% cereal/grains, with the rest coming from forage, grasses, insects, and other supplemental feeds.
  • No antibiotics should be given to chickens
  • Chickens should be free-ranged and not confined in cages

Why Organic Eggs and Meat are so Expensive

The reason why organic eggs and meat are expensive is very obvious. Raising organic chickens needs extra effort and care. Since you cannot use antibiotics, treating sick birds using organic remedies could be challenging, and mixing natural feeds also needs extra time. Nevertheless, organic eggs and meat are far healthier than non-organic.

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