White Paper: Cage Free/Free Range and Other Phrases

Free Range, Cage-Free, and other phrases.  What do they mean?

I think these all sound wonderful, don’t you?  I want my chicken raised that way.

Hi, Farmer Bob here again to try and shine some light on these phrases.

In your brief welcome email we talked about grocery chicken, how it’s raised and what it’s fed vs. my Perfect Pastured Poultry.

If you’ll recall I mentioned the huge corporations not being open about their practices, and feed.  About how I think having the chickens in constant artificially lit spaces was cruel.  Then I compared those chickens to my Happy Pastured chickens who are raised with outdoors in fresh air and sun, with nothing hidden behind the scenes.

Before I try to explain what Free Range, Cage-Free, etc. really mean, allow me just a moment for some overview explanation such as:

  • Most, or many, or all, of the marketing phrases we “know” were developed by a large corporation, in conjunction with USDA, to make phrases and definitions for their own product and according to their standards.
  • These phrases, with associated standards, are strictly marketing ploys to make you feel better about your purchase, and don’t necessarily mean what we might think.

Let’s get into what these phrases really mean.  I found this online @ homeguides.sfgate.com and this does an excellent job of explanation, so I just copied it.  😉


“Free-Range” Label

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issues “free-range” certification to poultry operations that allow birds access to the outdoors. It does not mean that the poultry must be allowed access to pastures or grassy yards, nor does it ensure a certain amount of time outdoors or the size of the area for a given number of birds.

“Organic” Label

To sell chicken labeled “organic,” growers must comply with the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). Standards for this certification require attention to renewable resources and conservation, biodiversity and management practices that promote ecological harmony. Certified organic poultry are not fed antibiotics or growth hormones. Look for the brown and green “USDA Organic” seal, which ensures that the product is made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients.

Other Common Labels

Other common labels found on poultry to imply it is healthy include “natural” and “antibiotic-free.” These terms are not regulated by a set of standards, nor do they require third-party inspection. Farms that raise these birds may or may not prioritize such things as organic feed or animal welfare, necessitating further inspection.

Local Farms

Small family farms are rapidly declining. Many organic farmers, in particular, cannot afford the expensive certification processes required to earn certain labels. Others implement high standards of practice but fail to meet specific requirements. Many local, small-scale poultry farmers raise chickens in natural settings and with attention to standards of quality and animal well-being. These chickens may not be technically organic, but they are certainly closer to the mental picture the terms “organic” and “free-range” typically create than factory-farmed chickens that are formally deemed organic and free-range. Look for locally grown poultry at farmers markets and health food stores. Many local farms welcome visitors, allowing a firsthand look at where your food comes from.


I would draw your attention to the “organic” area.  This isn’t entirely accurate, at least to my knowledge of the actual Organic Law.  I have read a lot of this law, although admittedly not all of it, and the law gives standards, and the standards should carry the common conception of “organic” but the standards can be met without fulfilling the commonly held concept.  This is particularly true if you’re a large corporation with millions of dollars to spend to fulfill the “letter” of the law, leaving the “spirit” of the law to us poor gullible schmucks.

This last description, Local Farm, is me.  I raise chickens exactly like the picture these phrases conjure in your mind.  And, I welcome you to come to the farm and see for yourself.  I welcome you, I’ve nothing to hide.

In the next email we’ll talk about brooding.  What it is, how I brood my chicks, and perhaps talk about why this aspect of raising chickens is never talked about.

Until next time.

Farmer Bob