Pasture Raised Chicken vs. Conventional, Free Range & Organic
Being skeptical of food label claims is not just understandable - it’s the responsible way to shop.
As consumers, we should do everything possible to make sure we’re well-informed about the quality of the food we’re plating up for dinner each night.
With this quick and clear Pasture-Raised Chicken Guide, we hope to demystify several common food terms, so that you’re a better educated and more knowledgeable consumer.
What is pasture-raised chicken?
Pasture-raised chickens refers to raising animals in outdoor spaces that support their primal foraging instincts.
Some farming operations give their pastured poultry regular but not daily access to the outdoors, while others provide daily access to the same square feet of outdoor space repeatedly. These practices contradict a chicken’s natural instincts to graze and peck across a wide area of land.
Here at Grass Roots Farmer’s Co-op, we’re proud of our commitment to move our animals to fresh non-GMO pasture every single day. Rain or shine.
Pasture-raised chicken vs. conventional
If you pick up a package of chicken at your local grocery store and don’t see the words “pastured” or “pasture raised” on it, odds are very high that you’re holding conventional chicken, which came from a factory farming operation.
Conventional poultry farmers can raise hens in any manner they see fit, which usually results in birds being crammed into huge sheds without access to daylight, fresh air, or the naturally rejuvenated pasture that produces the bugs and grubs that chickens instinctively peck for.
Conventional farming operations generally focus on the business of food production, which places their emphasis on things like cost cutting measures and profit margins.
Animal welfare, and the nutrient density of the resulting meat are often not top priorities.
Pasture-raised chicken vs. free range
“Free range” poultry can be used to describe living conditions that provide chickens with the option of accessing an outdoor space. But the size and quality of that outdoor space are up to the individual farmer.
This means that in the conventional farming scenario we described above, a huge flock of chickens could be tightly squeezed into a large shed, but if that shed has a door that opens to a small patch of bare earth, those chickens could be labeled as “free range” or “cage free”.
As you can see, this term carries a massive loophole that raises legitimate difficulties for a consumer who wants to choose a meat provider that raises animals conscientiously, creating living conditions that are as close to their wild behaviors as possible.
Is pasture-raised chicken better?
Pasture-raised chicken is one of the highest poultry standards. It is certainly a more nutritious and ethical choice than conventionally-raised chicken, and provides more certainty than most free-range chicken labels offer.
Most of all, pasture-raised chicken is proven to be exponentially healthier and more flavorful than conventional meat. Here are a few details on its nutritional value:
Pastured chicken has more good fat.
Breast meat from chickens allowed to roam and forage is higher in Omega 3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fat.
Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are not produced by your body—you have to get them from your diet. And many doctors and nutritionists believe that the balance of these two fatty acids is one of the more critical components to good health.
Omega 6 fatty acids are useful, but too many are counter productive and create inflammation and potentially harmful results. This is why balancing Omega 6 with Omega 3s is critical.
And the same study also shows a lower ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 in pasture-raised meat, which is what nutritionists tout as the right proportion of these fatty acids.
Pastured chicken has less bad fat.
In 1999, chicken farmer turned researcher Barb Groski tested meat from both pasture-raised chicken and conventionally-raised chicken to compare their nutritional content.
One of her major learnings was that pastured poultry contained 21% less fat and 30% less saturated fat. Explore the short form version of her findings.
Pastured chicken supports a healthy immune system.
Gorski’s study and others that have followed since, show that pastured chicken contains significantly more vitamin A than conventional chicken. This wonder vitamin contributes to skin and bone health and ensures a strong immune system. It also happens to be a potent antioxidant.
Summary: Pasture-Raised Chicken
The healthiest meat starts with the healthiest animals. And that’s not just our anecdotal opinion.
Research shows that pasture-raised chicken is nutritionally superior to the meat from conventional birds, with particular advantages like:
- Pasture-raised chicken contains a lower ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3, which is widely recommended by dieticians and nutritionists
- Pasture-raised chicken contains 21% less fat and 30% less saturated fat.
- Pasture-raised chicken contains significantly higher percentages of Vitamin A