Organic vs. Pastured Chicken: Labels can be confusing!

April 4, 2021

At Beiler Family Farm our hens are TRULY free-range and pasture-raised. 

This is something you may have heard us say before and wondered, why the emphasis on TRULY? Well, there happens to be a lot of deception and mislabeling in the poultry business. 

That “organic” labeled chicken in the food store, more often than not, did not live a natural and organic life. 

The USDA requires “organic” chicken to meet certain specifications - being fed 100% organic feed, provided year-round access to the outdoors, and produced without using sewage sludge or ionizing radiation.

On the surface, all that sounds fine and dandy. However, upon closer inspection, the USDA’s requirements fall short when it comes to the quality of life for the chickens.

“USDA Organic” standards leave many exceptions and loopholes for natural living standards.

Chicken labeled as “USDA Organic” is required by industry standards to have year round access to the outdoors. However, the USDA does not specify what that means exactly, and leaves room for interpretation. This allows large scale producers to only allow access to tiny uninviting outdoor lots and still qualify as “organic”.

There are also many exceptions to this rule that would allow producers to keep the chickens inside indefinitely. These include inclement weather, “risk to soil”, or at certain stages of life. 

There’s more. The USDA standards do not have stocking density guidelines. So, chickens are often packed by the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) into large ventilated sheds and sold off as “organic.”

When shopping for store bought chicken, you may see the “pasture-raised” label. 

This label indicates that the chickens had access to the outside on real grass where they could forage for their natural diet of plants and bugs, and get exercise and sunshine.

However, it’s important to note that the “pasture-raised” label is currently unregulated so it would be helpful to check that the label is also third party certified.

Most chicken that you find in food stores labeled as “organic” is basically conventionally raised chicken fed organic feed.

The “organic” label simply means the chicken feed does not contain unnatural fertilizers or pesticides. Unless there is other additional labeling, you have to assume these birds are raised in crates or overcrowded warehouses.

Farmer Jonas goes above and beyond the “organic” and “pasture raised” label. 

Beiler Family Farm’s chickens are never limited in their access to outdoor space, and they are never forcefully confined to an overcrowded chicken shed.

Our chickens live and spend most of their time in the pasture with our sheep. During the warmer months, they have movable huts in the pasture that they have free access to. 

In the winter months, the hens prefer to stay cozy and warm at night in a shed stuffed with straw bedding. During the day they have free access to the pasture, and as soon as the sun comes out they are out there pecking around!

Beiler Family Farm’s chickens are fed a natural and soy-free diet.

The chickens at Beiler Family Farm forage freely on native grasses, bugs, and flowers.

While the chickens spend most of their time on pasture foraging, they are also supplemented with a blend of organic corn, camelina meal, fish meal, wheat, peas, minerals, and oyster shells. 

Long story short, labels can be confusing! 

Navigating the misleading labels in today’s food markets can be frustrating, confusing, and time consuming. 

What’s the best way to know if your chicken is TRULY organic and pasture-raised?

Well, to know your farmer of course! 

At Beiler Family Farm we aim to be a source you can fully trust and to make your shopping experience easy.

When it comes to our chicken you can trust that it is TRULY free-range, pasture-raised, and full of nutrients from our beautiful green pastures.

Enjoy the food,

-Sara

And the Beiler Farm Team

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