January 19, 2021
Blog Post

Know Where Your Food Comes From: Chicken Certifications

There are several certifications to look out for when purchasing poultry if you are searching for humane raising practices. Cage-free, free-range, pasture raised, and organic are a progression of attributes around space and access to the outdoors.  

Our food system was built around the idea of producing as much food as cheaply as possible. Therefore, in factory farms, chickens raised for meat typically have less than a square foot and are one of thousands in a single broiler house. Egg-laying hens usually have even less space than that and are kept eight to nine in a single cage. While this maximizes production, it can lead to illness and unnatural, inhumane living conditions.  

Chickens that are raised cage-free are not only given more space, but they tend to have other beneficial qualities as a result of more natural environments. Additionally, it’s important to note that hormone use in chicken is prohibited by the USDA regardless of its certifications or lack of them. Let’s explore the different chicken certifications as they relate to space regulated by the USDA

Cage-Free Chickens

• Aren’t caged
• No added hormones
• Are able to roam freely in an enclosed environment with unlimited access to food and fresh water

While these chickens have access to more space than in a cage to walk, lay eggs in a nest, and spread their wings, it is common in these facilities to see more hen-on-hen violence and poor air-quality as a result.

Free-Range Chickens

• Aren’t caged
• No added hormones
• Are able to roam freely in an enclosed environment with unlimited access to food and fresh water
• Have access to the outdoors

This certification is the next step up from cage-free practices. However, it doesn’t regulate if, or how long, the chickens are able to roam outside, which could just be a small, fenced in area. Though, with access to fresh air and sunlight, studies have shown that these eggs have a higher nutritional value than eggs from hens enclosed in buildings.  

Pasture Raised Chickens

• Aren’t caged
• No added hormones
• Are able to roam freely in an enclosed environment with unlimited access to food and fresh water
• Have access to the outdoors, where they have at least 108 square feet per chicken

This certification is similar to free-range, but ensures that chickens are spending most of their time outdoors with access to housing at night to protect themselves from predators and inclement weather.  

Organic Chickens

• Aren’t caged
• No added hormones
• Antibiotic free
• Must be raised in living conditions that replicate their natural environment (access to pastures)
• Are provided with 100% organic feed or forage

Organic has the highest standards for its certification as it includes additional practices, such as being antibiotic free and organic chicken feed.  

While these certifications are intended to guide buyers into making more informed purchases, we always recommend finding out more specifics about raising practices through your supplier, producer, or rancher, as it can vary slightly for each certification.