Free range chicken
Free range chickens are chickens raised in a humane manner. Unlike factory farmed chicken they are not kept in pens or cages throughout the duration of their lives but allowed to walk around unfettered.
There's nothing new about running poultry free, of course. It used to be done that way all over the world till about a century ago. A natural part of every old-time farmstead was a half-wild flock of chickens scratching around the barnyard and fields after bugs, native seeds and berries, plus whatever feed grain passed through the larger farm animals.
Why should I be aware of this?
Concerns about health, environment and humane treatment of poultry have made us want to know more about the way the chicken we eat are treated. Products labeled "free range" are largely believed to address most of these concerns. But do free range chicken receive humane treatment? Are they slaughtered in less violent ways? While “free-range” practices may be less inhumane than the horrors animals are forced to endure on conventional factory farms, they are still very far from cruelty-free.
We also need to know if free range chicken address our health and environmental conerns. Are these chickens tastier as touted by some "free range" chicken producers?
All about free range chickens
Factory farmed chicken are raised in extremely cramped quarters where they can barely move. This creates stress in the commercial chickens that can lead to disease, which in turn results in the need for extensive use of antibiotics. The "stunted" white meat is usually devoid of taste and health value. In most cases chemicals have been added to create an artificial moisture in the meat.
On the other hand, free range chickens are raised outside on pasture rather than in crowded poultry houses. They have constant access to a natural diet and enjoy plenty of fresh air and sunshine.
Some features of free range chickens
- They are not raised in pens or cages and are allowed to move around.
- They are not given artificial growth hormones.
- These chickens are not fed meat or bone meal.
- They are not given antibiotics.
- These chickens mature at their natural pace.
- It is said that these chockens taste better.
Free range chicken and health
Free range chickens are antibiotic free, disease free, stress free and healthier. Since it is free of antibiotics, it is supposed to be a rich source of protein. Over half of the antibiotics fed to mass-produced farm animals including chickens are identical to the ones administered to humans. Overuse of such antibiotics can lead to strains of bacteria resistance to the antibiotic, opening doors wider to the potential for human diseases.
Factory farmed chicken and health concerns
- Antibiotic Residues-- Roughly half of all antibiotics used in the U.S.are fed to farm animals. In the United States alone, 10.5 million pounds of antimicrobial medications are fed to chickens every year. These medications are excreted and then wash into groundwater and waterways. In addition, the chicken flesh contains drug residues. A study conducted by a US government department showed that 83 percent were resistant to at least one antibiotic and 53 percent were resistant to three or more antibiotics; 6 percent of the bacteria were specifically resistant to the antibiotic which is the treatment of choice for children with salmonella poisoning.
- Mystery Feed -- Chicken are fed with slaughterhouse leftovers in factory farms. They are also fed manure in some cases, which may contain pesticides, drug residues, pathogens, heavy metals, hormones and microbial toxins.
- Food poisoning --- Pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter thrive in overcrowded industrial poultry production facilities, where these bacteria are easily spread from bird to bird.
- Inhygenic conditions lead to infected chicken -- The overcrowded factory farms follow fast pace and unsanitary slaughtering practices, thereby exposing chicken flesh to contaminants such as feces, bile, mucus, and partially digested feed, any of which might cause illness if ingested or even touched by humans.
- Contamination-- Mass production and transportation of slaughtered chicken introduces multiple opportunities for contamination. Studies show that maggots and other insect larvae have been found in the storage and transport equipment of U.S poultry producers. Shipments of meat have been contaminated with a wide variety of foreign matter such as grease, metal shavings, and dead insects.
Free range chicken and environment
Contrary to what we think, the manner in which we raise chicken has an impact on our soil, water and even our food chain. The huge quantities of antimicrobial medications fed to factory farmed chickens every year are excreted and are then washed into ground water and waterways. Phosphorus is an integral component in any animal's diet, but scientists have known for some time that animals do not digest much of the phosphorus in their feed. The undigested phosphorus is released in the animal's waste. When this poultry waste is used for fertilizer over the years, the phosphorus accumulates in the soil and leaches into local waterways.
Though free range chcicken do not harm the environment in this manner, questions are raised about whether they are raised in a completely cruelty free manner or not. For they are transported in packed trucks like factory farmed chicken and killed as violently.
What can I do?
You can raise chicken yourself to ensure that apart from being chemical and antibiotic free, they are raised in a completely cruelty free manner.
- Buy a varied flock of chicken.
- Avoid 'leghorns' usually purchased by factory farms.
- If you are starting, start in midsummer, then you do not have the problem of keeping young chickens in the freezing cold basement during winters.
And, as with factory-farmed birds raised for their meat, "free-range" chickens and turkeys may undergo the same grueling and sometimes fatal transport to slaughterhouses when reaching market weight. Workers gather these birds up to four at a time, carrying them upside down by their legs before throwing them into crates on multi-tiered trucks without protection from the heat or cold and without access to food or water. "Free-range" birds end up at the same slaughterhouses as factory-farmed birds, where they are hung upside down, have their throats slit, and bleed to death, often while still fully conscious.
- In the 1950s, it took 84 days to raise a five-pound chicken. Due to selective breeding and growth-promoting drugs, it now takes only 45 days. Such fast growth causes chickens to suffer from a number of chronic health problems, including leg disorders and heart disease. 
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