Chickens are social animals that live together in flocks. They are omnivores who naturally spend their day foraging for food. They will often scratch the soil looking for seeds, insects, clovers, grasses and other vegetation.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the 50 billion chickens reared annually experience intensive farming methods that take them out of their natural habitat. Chickens naturally live for 6 or more years but under intensive farming methods, chicken raised for meat will live less than 6 weeks before slaughter. Free-range and organic chickens will usually be slaughtered around 8-12 weeks. Chickens farmed for meat are called “broilers” or “fryers” while those farmed for eggs are called egg-laying hens.
What's the difference?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Regulations, a free-range chicken must have access to the outdoors. In other words, they are raised mainly outside of pens and are allowed to roam free and forage their food. Pasture-raised hens consume grass and bugs in addition to their grain diet.
On the other hand, factory chickens are raised indoors in confined cages and are strictly fed just a grain diet. Chickens confined in shared cages inside warehouses are overcrowded and are not able to engage in their natural behaviours of foraging, dust bathing and flapping their wings. This causes chickens serious physical and psychological discomfort.
Does it really matter?
Factory farm wastes are stored in mature pits and are used as fertilizer in farm fields. There over 500 million tons of manure produced each year. It has been noted in a Wisconsin State Journal that so much waste is produced in one place that they need to apply more manure than what the soil is capable of using. Eventually, the extra manure can make their way into the local environment and pollute the air and water. Manure contains phosphorus, nitrogen and bacteria that can endanger our environment and health.
Moreover, the overcrowded facilities make it easier for chickens to spread diseases. When thousands of chickens are packed into feedlots full of manure, bacteria can follow them into the slaughterhouses. Contamination of just one chicken can eventually contaminate thousands of pounds of meat inside one slaughterhouse.
See for yourself!
In general, chickens are great for their high protein content. They are a good source of all B-vitamins and are very rich in selenium. They are also good sources of zinc, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and iron.
Not only do the meat and eggs of free-range chickens taste better, they are also healthier. They have higher levels of nutrients and less fat. Free-range chickens have 21% less total fat, 30% less saturated fat and 28% fewer calories than their factory-farmed counterparts. Moreover, eggs from poultry raised on pasture have 10% less fat, 40% more vitamin A and 400% more omega-3s!
Now Let's Talk Eggs!
With all the new labels out there for eggs, it can be very confusing as a consumer. Below, we define each one for you:
Free Run = Chickens can move around in open concept barns but they don't necessarily have the access to the outdoors. Overcrowding may still be an issue.
Free Range = Hens see the light of day and their feet actually come in contact with the earth.
Cage Free = Chickens aren't raised in battery cages but are still most likely raised in tight conditions, in the dark with clipped beaks and wings and very little exposure to sunlight. There's no assurance of what they are fed.
Certified Organic = The feed that is given to the chickens is organic. Therefore, the chickens are not pumped with growth hormones or antibiotics. The hens that produce organic eggs benefit from the highest welfare standards. It is the only label that requires certification.
Eggs keeps the eye and heart healthy, helps boost energy levels, improves immune health and lowers the risk of heart disease. They may have a bad reputation for their cholesterol content but contrary to popular belief, they actually raise the good cholesterol (HDL) levels! Their fat content helps promote brain health too. And one last thing, they help with satiety levels which keeps you full longer! It’s best to buy organic, free range eggs to get the overall health benefits.
Overall, free-range chickens are happy chickens that produce healthier eggs. They are better for our health, our environment and the well-being of the chickens. Here at Fitness Foods, we use free-range chickens and eggs because we care. Know the difference and make your choice!