Free Ranging Chickens – Definition

How is “free range” defined? ~ David Helms.

When I think of free range chickens, I get a very specific picture in my mind. Let me describe it to you.

I see a flock of chickens roaming around green pastures. They happily scratch for bugs and worms. Their days are filled with the wonder of searching out and trying new foods. Baby chicks scamper around their mother hen when she calls to them with food. The chickens are happy and healthy, fluffy and shinny.

Idealistic, yes.

The truth of the matter is that “free range” is a term with little definition and in many cases, even less regulation.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely don’t want inspectors knocking on my door, checking up on my farm management.

However, the term “free range” usually brings a higher price in the marketplace. If you are selling your eggs or meat, you should know the definition in your area of “free range” so that you are marketing with integrity.

In the United Kingdom, to market your eggs or meat as free range, your chickens must have access to open air runs during the day for at least half of their lives.

In the European Union the definition is more stringent. Except for restrictions put in place by a veterinarian in the case of illness, hens must have continuous daytime access to open air runs. The run space must be purposed solely for the hens except for use as orchards, livestock grazing or woodlands. If using the run space for one of these dual purposes, authorization must be obtained by the proper authorities.

Run space must be mainly covered with vegetation. Here is an exact definition for the EU;

“The open-air runs must at least satisfy the conditions specified in Article 4(1)(3)(b)(ii) of Directive 1999/74/EC whereby the maximum stocking density is not greater than 2,500 hens per hectare of ground available to the hens, or one hen per 4 m2 at all times and the runs are not extending beyond a radius of 150 m from the nearest pophole of the building; an extension of up to 350 m from the nearest pophole of the building is permissible provided that a sufficient number of shelters and drinking troughs within the meaning of that provision are evenly distributed throughout the whole open-air run with at least four shelters per hectare. (page 25 of Commission Regulations for Marketing Standards for Eggs, August 14, 2001)”

The United States has the least restrictive definition of “free range”. In fact, there is very little standard definition at all.

The common definition would include an unfenced flock or a fence so distant that it would be inconsequential to the freedom of the flock.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture only requires that a flock raised for meat have access to the outdoors to receive a free-range certification. There is not a definition or regulations in place regarding eggs sold under the free range heading.

Standards are currently being considered and terms like “pasture raised” and “free roaming” are being defined.

For now though, it appears that if the sun ever shines upon their little beaks, you can call your chickens “free range”.

Regardless of where you live and the regulations in place, let’s be sure to market with integrity at all times.

May the standards set forth by governing agencies be the minimum requirement as we strive to provide the highest standards possible to the management of our flocks.

Well that’s it for this week, David I hope this was helpful.

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