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Friday, November 27, 2015

What does "free range" eggs mean?

Among many of the labels we see on products these days, the term "free range" is one of them you are probably familiar with seeing. Free range chicken, free range eggs, free range beef, etc. but what does free range mean?

Growing up, I remember my grandma giving me the chore to go collect the eggs for the day and feed the chickens. I'd take the pail out and gather all the eggs for the day, bring them in and wash them off. There was a lot of egg gathering memories from my childhood. My husband has the same memories as his grandpa raised chickens as well. We find ourselves doing the same thing with our kids, having them go out and collect the eggs for the day.

Along with growing produce for our CSAs and local farmers market, we also raise chickens for meat and eggs. Our Rhode Island Red hens enjoy a nice size chicken run where they can go outside from the chicken house. Speaking of chicken house, we just built a new, larger one this fall. It gives our hens more room inside for when they come in at night. We then also have a large size chicken run pen for them. We have a 3 area rotation outside the barn that the chickens still can enter the pen from the barn and vise versa. We rotate the pens every so many weeks for the chickens to enjoy new pasture. This is how our chickens are free range and we have free range eggs.

To many consumers the labels, free range, organic, local, cage free, etc can be confusing. In this post, I'm going to address free range. What does free range mean to a farmer.

A free range chicken is allowed constant 
access to the outside, with plenty of fresh 
air and room for exercise. 
The chickens are not contained in cages. 

The USDA says free range chickens are allowed access to the outside.

We feed our chickens a combination feed, but not so much that they don't forage graze.  They have constant access to the outside with plenty of room for exercise. They also have a nice size chicken house to protect from temperatures, wind, and to roost in at night. Our pastures pens get rotated for fresh pasture for them to graze and roam on. Our meat birds and our egg layers are raised the same. Inside our chicken house, we have our nesting boxes available for the hens. They have access to the nests from the inside of the pin, and we gather the eggs from the outside.

This allows us to have free range chicken and free range eggs to sell to our consumers.

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