Chicken– Free-Rangin’?


  • Is free-range better than conventionally raised chicken?
  • Free-range might lead to less disease
  • Conventional safer for the chicken
Organic Farm Chicken by Cliff Despeaux 2010

Organic Farm Chicken by Cliff Despeaux 2010

Chicken is the most consumed meat in America. That being said, you probably have it in some form or another in your freezer. The question to ask yourself, though, is whether that chicken ran free before it took up residence in your freezer, or did it live more conventionally?


Most commercially produced chicken is raised the conventional way, and Brittany Hawkins (an Agricultural Education major at Cal Poly who has taken several poultry classes) explained the process simply:

At 28 days a chick is born, these are called broilers. They then go into growing houses for a couple months. This is where they mature into adulthood. After they reach maturity, they are sent to the slaughter houses where they are processed into the chicken that you buy at the grocery store.

What’s the difference between this process and free-range chicken, you ask? Well, the answer is simple. The chicken is able to roam freely in a backyard type environment, instead of being in a cage. The dispute behind the difference, however, is not so simple.

Barry Estabrook, from the Atlantic, makes evident the arguments of those in favor of free-range raising in an article he writes about the ongoing salmonella outbreaks. Those in favor of this method not only believe it is more humane, but also that it will keep diseases from spreading within the flock.

“Huge farms and processors that ship their products across the nation have given us E. coli in ground beef and spinach, Salmonella in peanut butter and fresh salsa, and Listeria in processed chicken”—Barry Estabrook

Processed Chicken

Processed Chicken

Proponents for the conventional method of raising chicken view these ideas as being poorly researched.

“Cannibalism is very high in free-range chickens. It’s just their instincts, but it’s hard to raise chicken to maturity when they are busy killing each other every chance they get. That’s where the cages come in.”—Brittany Hawkins

Also, veterinarians believe that when the fowl are in a big commercial environment, free-range actually adds to the spread of diseases. If you just have a few chickens in your backyard, they say, the free-range method may be ideal. But when it comes to large companies mass producing chicken for America’s consumption, the conventional methods are safer for all parties involved.

All of this quarreling came to a vote in 2008 with PROP 2. This initiative was also called the Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act (the purpose of which was to give caged chickens 2 feet of extra room, if not to house them in a free-range environment).

Although the initiative did not pass, research was done to see how the free-range lifestyle would affect chickens. The animals were caged for a period of time, and then allowed to go outside. The studies showed that the chickens became accustomed and comfortable in their cages, and even when allowed to go outside, they chose not to.

So again… you have some basic information about how chicken gets to your freezer. The question is how you choose to use the information? Either way, you will be able to find companies which specialize in one method of raising chicken, so you will not be at a loss for the meat that America now consumes on a daily basis.


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