How and Why of Free-Range Chickens (Video)

Free-range chickens provide tastier meat and more flavorful eggs than their store-bought counterparts, but what does “free-range” really mean?

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What does it mean for a chicken to be free-range? We often hear terms like cage-free and free-range used interchangeably, but these labels can be misleading. If you value the integrity of your food, it’s important to know the why and hows of truly free-range chickens. True free-range chickens spend the majority of their days foraging on a wide variety of plants and insects in a natural environment which results in much tastier meat and dark rich flavorful eggs. As you can see here, there is a big difference between a store-bought commercial egg, a cage-free egg and a true farm-fresh, free-range egg.

A study conducted by MOTHER EARTH NEWS comparing free-range eggs to the U.S.D.A. nutrient data for commercial eggs found that on average, free-range chicken eggs contained one-third less cholesterol, a quarter of the saturated fat, two thirds more vitamin A, two times more omega-three fatty acids, three times more vitamin E and seven times more beta-carotene. To ensure your eggs and meat are from free-range chickens look for indications on the packaging that show the chickens were pastured. You may want to buy directly from a farmer in your area who can guarantee the chickens were pasture-raised. But probably the most fun and satisfying way to get free-range chickens and eggs is to raise them yourself.

The basics of raising chickens are pretty simple — chickens, like us, need food, water and shelter. A good supply of water and supplemental feed are fairly easily achieved. Get yourself a good feeder and a water system like this and you’ll be set. When it comes to housing, the choices are as varied as the breeds you can choose from. Most chickens are easy to please, so a corner of your barn or an old garden shed can be converted to suit your flock. However, you may want to consider a portable pen, sometimes called a ‘range shelter’, that will allow you to move your flock to different areas of your property while still providing them with adequate shelter from the weather and from predators. No matter the reason, whether it’s eggs, meat, pest control or the natural fertilizer they provide, a flock of chickens should be a welcome addition to any small homestead!

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More on Free-Range Chickens from MOTHER EARTH NEWS

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The MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff has been featured in videos covering topics from seed starting to skin toner. Check out our full collection of wiser living videos on our video page.