Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Free Range" or Pasture Raised

Okay for definition sake, Free Range means provided access to the outside. Organic means fed a certified organic diet, no antibiotics, no chemicals, no hormones, no genetically modified organisms (although this one is being worked on since the food or substance in question is molecularly the same thing). And Pasture Raised means 100% access to grass and field. Now, just nutritionally speaking and not considering the quality of life issues...As far as I see it a chicken is supposed to peck, to eat bugs, grubs, seeds, grass, and the occasional pepples ('cause they have gizzards). Wikipedia says-Chickens are omnivores. In the wild, they often scratch at the soil to search for seeds, insects and even larger animals such as lizards or young mice.

So what this means is a chicken raised on a vegatarian diet of corn and soy is not eating what a chicken should eat, and probably not carrying the same nutrients and minerals that a chicken should have. This just seems logical to me. But in the grocery store my options are Organic Chicken, Organic Free Range Chicken, Free Range Chicken, and conventional Chicken. (Note I capitalised Organic, and Free Range, these are definable USDA standards, conventional is just everything else that is not certified one of these things). Not a Pature Raised Chicken to pick from (o.k., pun kinda intended). Instead to find such a thing as a chicken raised the way a chicken oughta be, as deemed by Nature herself, I had to do an online search. After several hours and 4 emails, I heard from a rancher out in Tres Pinos (way out past Hollister, about 50 miles away). He told me he would be at the Saratoga Farmer's Market on saturdays. Hooray! A trip over the hill (28 miles away), which included a nice breakfast at Hobee's, and we had 2 fresh, local, pasture raised chickens! And the price was $20 for each chicken weighing over 4 pounds each, in fact almost 5 pounds. That works out to around $4.50 a pound. Totally worth it in my book. And low and behold, the chicken actually tasted like chicken! Even more so than I'm accustomed to. Plus I can only logically assume that we are getting more chicken from our chicken since it lived more of a chiken-ish life than our previous chickens ever did(or ever will. poor chickies).

For those who would like a little more reseach then my opinion and assumptions...

From Wikipedia

The USDA requires that chickens raised for their meat have access to the outdoors in order to receive the free-range certification. Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means. Many egg farmers sell their eggs as free range merely because their cages are two or three inches above average size, or because there is a window in the shed.

From Petaluma Poultry, producers of Rosie Organic Free Range Chicken

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Petaluma Poultry define "natural" chicken?Natural chickens are found in many stores across the country and meet the broadly-defined USDA guidelines for using the word "natural" on their label. These guidelines state that any product may be labeled natural if it does not contain any artificial flavoring, coloring ingredients, chemical preservatives or any other synthetic ingredients, and the product is minimally processed.The USDA natural claim represents little more than a minimal standard. Specifically, it does not address growing methods and in particular, the use of antibiotics or growth enhancers for livestock and poultry. And, even with a USDA natural label, it is legally possible to offer naturally grown livestock or chickens that have been fed antibiotics. In fact, any conventionally grown chicken can qualify for this natural claim as stated in the USDA guidelines.

Petaluma Poultry defines a "natural" chicken as one that is raised without antibiotics for its entire life, fed a vegetarian diet without the use of animal fat or animal by-products, raised in a stress-free environment and treated in a humane manner at all times.

Certified organic chicken takes the raising of chickens to a new level and creates an entirely new category of products for the consumer. "Certified organic" chickens are different from "natural" chickens because they are fed a certified organic diet, raised without antibiotics and use a third party certifier to verify the manner in which they are raised. ROSIE offers the consumer another choice responding to the growing awareness and demand for organic products.-

-Who raises ROCKY Chickens and how are they raised?

ROCKY Chickens are raised solely by Petaluma Poultry on various local ranches throughout Sonoma and Marin Counties. All ranches are located within 30 miles of our own processing plant on Lakeville Highway in Petaluma, California.They are raised on a soft bed of rice hulls, approximately 6 to 8 inches thick. All of our chickens are given approximately one square foot per bird in which to roam freely in the poultry house, and the outdoor pen space is 50% to 100% the size of the inside houses. This represents up to double the growing space given conventional chickens.-

-What does free range mean? What is the difference between free range chickens and conventional chickens?

Petaluma’s birds get approximately one square foot per bird, about 25% more space per bird than those raised in conventional poultry operations. Depending upon the farm, the pens outside are 50% to 100% of the size of the inside houses.
Beginning at approximately four weeks of age, when the birds are fully feathered and able to withstand both exposure to the sun and cooler outside temperatures, the birds are allowed to roam outside of the house beginning about mid-morning, and are then ushered back inside the house around 5 pm. They are locked inside the house at night to protect them from predators. There are multiple outside access doors on the sides of the house for the chickens to use the outdoor pen during the day.

What types of feed are chickens fed and what is a vegetable diet?

We strongly believe that the flavor of the chickens comes from the feed that they eat.All ROCKY chickens are fed the same feed made from high quality, nutritionally balanced feed ingredients. The feed is composed of approximately 70% corn and corn gluten meal and 15-18% soybean meal, with the balance of the diet made up of salt, vitamins, and minerals. The diet is called a vegetable diet because the protein and energy sources; corn and soybean meal, are all vegetable in origin. NO animal by-products or animal fat are used in the ROCKY chicken feed.-

-Why do some chickens have yellow colored skin and some have white skin?

The yellow pigmentation in the skin of chickens is derived from xanthophyll, which naturally occurs in yellow corn. Chickens fed a high level of corn and corn gluten meal will have a naturally yellow colored skin. Chickens fed grains such as wheat, oats or barley that do not contain xanthophyll will not have yellow skin.We at Petaluma Poultry spend extra money feeding our ROCKY chickens corn and corn gluten meal to get the yellow color of which we are so proud.

(Wikipedia has this to say about the yellow color---genetic research has suggested that the bird likely descended from both Red and the Grey Junglefowl (G. sonneratii). Although hybrids of both wild types usually tend toward sterility, recent genetic work has revealed that the genotype for yellow skin present in the domestic fowl is not present in what is otherwise its closest kin, the Red Junglefowl. It is deemed most likely, then, that the yellow skin trait in domestic birds originated in the Grey Junglefowl.*Resource*-Eriksson J, Larson G, Gunnarsson U, Bed'hom B, Tixier-Boichard M, et al. (2008) Identification of the Yellow Skin Gene Reveals a Hybrid Origin of the Domestic Chicken. PLoS Genet January 23, 2008 )

Why do we not use antibiotics in our poultry?

We believe that the long term use of antibiotics represent a biological and environmental threat. The long term usage of a particular antibiotic in food animals may allow the development of genetically specific resistant bacteria. If these resistant bacteria from the food supply are passed into a bacteria that infects humans, usage of this particular antibiotic against cross resistant bacteria may become ineffective and could lead to prolonged sickness, slower recovery, and possible death.Increased use of antibiotics in food animals has caused an increase in the overall resistance to antibiotics both in animals and human beings. It now takes a larger dosage of antibiotics to produce the same effect as a smaller dosage administered 20 years ago. This growing resistance is passed on to the succeeding generations, and thus becomes a self perpetuating cycle.Secondly, and most importantly, chickens do not need antibiotics to grow and be healthy. We want our chickens to develop their own resistance to disease by raising them in a natural environment using better methods of poultry husbandry.We at Petaluma Poultry, where we can control all aspects of poultry husbandry, feel that we are well suited to raise chickens without the use of antibiotics.By more rigidly watching every aspect of our breeding stock, vaccination programs, ranch clean up and sanitation programs, as well as reducing stocking density (fewer chickens per square feet of living space), minimal stress, and having a nutritionally well-balanced feeding program, we are able to raise high quality chickens without the use of antibiotics.

back to me again...

This just illustrates to me that we aren't supposed to know about natural systems, we aren't supposed to question why a vegetarian diet to a known omnivore, we aren't even supposed to wonder why a safe shed enclosure with access to the outside isn't providing chickens with grass, bugs, or seeds. If they can claim a certain diet, they must be able to enforce a certain diet. And they are "proud" of themselves! Is it just me that thinks this is stinking of more than chicken sh*t?

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