Poultry Vocabulary

There are a lot of buzz terms in the poultry industry. It is important to understand what they mean, so that you can properly label YOUR poultry, and so that you know what you are getting when you buy poultry or eggs.

Cage Free - this just means they are not kept in very small cages. They may be confined to a coop, a pen (even a small pen), or tractor. In the commercial chicken world, it means they are kept in a large chicken house, which is about the same as a broiler house, with thousands of other birds in relatively little space. They may be fed medicated feed, or other feed that is the same as caged chickens. Cage free is NOT organic.

Organic - they must be certified organic. Now, you may think this is something it is not! Organic chickens may be raised in cages, and may be fed substances that are not natural for poultry to eat. They are simply fed foods that are themselves labeled as organic, and there is a lot more leeway there than you might realize.

Free Range - a term with a wide range of meanings. Can mean allowed to peck and scratch in a pen, can mean they are confined to a chicken tractor so their range changes daily, and often means that they are in a layer house with access to a very small outdoor pen. It almost NEVER means that they are allowed to run wild without any kind of containment (an impossibility for commercial chicken operations of any kind). Free Range chickens, even those raised by small farmers are fed supplementary feed which is the same as what caged chickens are fed.

Naturally Fed - Means they are fed something that the owner thinks is natural, which can be pretty much anything. May be confined to cages. Now... this may mean BETTER eggs or meat than organic. Or it may mean WORSE eggs or meat than organic. Ask the grower, and see what they mean.

Field Raised, Pastured, Range Fed - poultry that is allowed to roam in a field, eat wild forage (grains, greens, bugs, etc), and which is usually fed supplementary feed. Supplementary feed may or may not be natural poultry food.

Veg Fed - It means they are caged, and fed a diet high in soy, corn, and industrial by-products other than animal products. It means they are either eating bugs the owners do not acknowledge (invariably the case since they scratch in their own litter for bugs), or they are denied any kind of natural environment in which bugs would grow. Chickens are NOT vegetarians, they are omnivores, so veg-fed chickens tend to be in poor health, and the eggs have small, pale yolks as a general rule. Veg-fed chickens are also fed a diet high in GMO and chemically treated foods, and high in industrial waste products, unless they are labeled Organic.

Make sure you understand when you hear buzzwords that you actually understand what they mean. Most do not mean what you think they mean.

When you begin promoting your own poultry products, make sure you accurately describe them. If you want to set yourself apart, explain what YOU mean by the terms.


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