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? In this video, Robin Mather, of Mother Earth News, clarifies this often-misleading term and offers the basics you’ll need to raise your own free-range chickens.

By Robin Mather

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!

More on Free-Range Chickens from Grit

• The Benefits of Raising Free-Range Chickens
• Free-Range Chickens Viable in Large Operation
• Free-Ranging Solution Against Predators for Backyard Chickens
• Prevent Coccidiosis In Chickens With Plums, Tea and Probiotics
The Lowdown on Feeding Clover to your Chickens 

Content Tools