How to Buy Real Pastured Poultry
Use these questions as a guide to selecting locally-raised pastured poultry.
Do the birds live outside on pasture?
Expectation: You're looking for an answer that demonstrates the flock is raised outside on pasture for a significant portion of it's life. The farmer will have a movable pasture shelter that provides protection from weather and predators.
Beware: Pastured poultry is seasonal, so if you live in a cold weather climate, be wary of buying fresh poultry meat at market in the cold months. This could indicated non-local or non-pastured product.
Understand: In winter in cold climates, the laying flock will come inside to be closer to the barn for comfort of the hens and farmer; Pastured poultry transfer all their farming practices (minus the frequent moves) to winter housing and still maintain high animal welfare in addition to delicious and nutritious products. It's still a superior product. Poultry produced for meat is seasonally raised and not raised on pasture during cold weather months.
Where were the birds raised?
Expectation: Pastured poultry excels in community development by keeping food dollars in your "neighborhood" where it circulates through the local economy more so than purchasing products that need to be shipped in.
Beware: While the definition of "local" can be subjective, be cautious of supporting "local" product that originates beyond a few hours drive.
Understand: Are you talking to the farmer or a trusted associate of the farmer? Dealing with the farmer directly fosters a transparent relationship. However, some local farms form cooperative arrangements and sell complementary products. An example would be a vegetable farm selling a neighbor's turkeys and vice versa. This is a good thing and each farmer should be transparent and knowledgeable.
How often do you move your birds?
Expect: First and foremost you're looking for the farmer to acknowledge moving the birds in a planned way. Meat birds are often moved daily. Layers, turkeys, and other poultry are commonly rotated on a 3, 5, or 7 day cycle. The actual frequency is best judged by the farmer in response to stocking density, pasture quality, and observed impact on the soil.
Beware: A selling price that is significantly below the typical pastured poultry price for your community is a signal that the poultry may not be pasture-raised. Watch out for "pastured poultry" claims from farms that do not rotate their birds through the pasture; the taste, the nutrition, animal welfare, and environmental benefits of pastured poultry require intentional flock movement.
Understand: Regardless of species, the constant movement brings the pastured poultry model to life. It enables the farmer to raise healthy birds without antibiotics; it increases the amount of green forage and small animal proteins the birds consume, which contributes to the health, taste, and nutrition of the final product. Movement improves the soil health and prevents denuded and diseased pastures often visible from continuous grazing. Pastured poultry is regenerative poultry.
Can I See Pictures?
Expect: You want to see birds on pasture in movable houses with vegetated pastures. If viewing pictures of the pasture rotation, expect to see evidence of grazing impact; however, the pasture should still be covered in vegetation.
Beware: Dirt, while sometimes present, is not synonymous with pastured poultry. Avoid dirt lot poultry.
Understand: Pastured poultry farmers love to show off their birds on pasture. Housing models incorporate varying degrees of function, style, and pragmatism.
What type of feed do you use?
Expect: Chickens are not vegetarians. They are omnivores, and they require feed in addition to the supplemental forage of greens, insects, and small animals found in the grass. You want to ensure the chickens are eating a nutritionally balanced ration, which in turn contributes to the health of the poultry and helps ensure a pleasant eating experience.
Beware: Use caution when buying from a farmer who claims the chickens or turkeys forage for 100% of their diet from pasture. You will likely be disappointed with the quality of the meat, and the bird was not raised in a humane way. It is difficult for even a very small flock of birds to adequately forage for all food. If a farmer claims not to use any prepared feed ingredients (corn, soy, wheat, oats, etc), you need to find out what else the farm is using for feed. Some farms are experimenting with feeding egg laying hens from composted materials (vegetable and food waste) and insect proteins, but this is an experimental model that hasn't been adopted at any significant scale.
Understand: Common feed ingredients include corn, soybean, fishmeal, alfalfa, wheat; An overwhelming majority of pastured poultry farmers feed a certified organic ration or a non-gmo (not certified organic) ration. You can also find farmers who avoid common ingredients, such as soy or corn, if needed. Understand that if you seek chickens with specialty diets, those birds have a higher cost to produce than the typical corn and soy feed rations.
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