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All about Pasture Raised Chickens

What is a pasture raised chicken?

A question we commonly get asked, is that what actually makes a chicken pasture raised? And how does this differ from free-range and organic, which are presumably on the pasture too?

This term for us, despite differing views within the farming and retail sectors, is that a pasture raised chicken should be grown and live their lives 100% outdoors on the pasture, never in the barn (with the exception of needing heat as chicks). Having a pastured life outside means the chickens are able to eat as much natural food as possible, and the supplementary grains left out for them are purely there to sustain the calories they cannot get off the field alone.

pasture raised chickens in polytunnel

While the comparison is a free-range chicken, these are more often than not in a barn with access to the same outdoor area during daylight hours every day, these outdoor areas are typically exhausted of nutrients, with the only main benefit being a welfare one. Furthermore, free range legislation means chickens should have half of their life with access to the outdoors, meaning they could go half their lives only in the barn, and again, up to 13 chickens per square metre indoors is acceptable.

This is an example of a law that can potentially come across as misleading. Which is why we offer full transparency for how the pasture raised chickens we source are produced, and it shows the customer how we justify that title. But regardless of titles, seeing for yourself the manner in which the chickens we sell are farmed, allows consumer decisions to be made purely on what they have seen.

Organic is a marked improvement over free range, chickens under this labelling must have been raised for at least 70 days and have continuous outdoor access covered with reasonable vegetation.

Despite this, the pasture raised chickens we source are from 80-110+ days old, and their supplementry feed is all UK sourced to boost its sustainability. Therefore no soya is used in the feed as this is only grown overseas as it does not grow well in the UK climate. The older age the chickens reach and their diet high in grass means the skin colour turns a golden yellow, shown most dramtically in our pasture raised chicken breast. Some customers ask us if the Chickens are corn-fed due to the similarities in colour to those grown on that diet, however it isn't. The diets protein source is from rapeseed meal with wheat and beans included in the ration.

To put it simply, we label them “pasture raised” as once off heat they are raised on fresh pasture on a daily basis without the use of chemical inputs.

Are Pasture raised chickens ever indoors? From Egg to Table

chick foraging in long grasses

As day old chicks, keeping warm is essential, as a mother hen would usually be brooding her chicks to keep them warm. Eggs are incubated at approximately 38.2’C for 21 days, and during hatching, the exhausting process of breaking the shell causes the chicks internal temperature to increase, which is the mark of the steady drop in heat needed to keep them warm over the first three weeks of life, which eventually moves down to a natural outdoor temperature. After three weeks, their larger size and appearance of the first feathers means they are able to be without additional heat (providing it’s not too cold outside) and they are often very excited to be out on the grass. From this point its is a more simple process...

They are raised in large poly tunnels with open sides for fresh air to pass through and moved every 2-3 days allowing them to forage for maximum food from the pasture. The poly tunnel allows them to be directly on grass and display all their natural behaviour, while offering shade to relax or sun to sunbathe in. From then on, the process continues until 12-16 weeks, growing and maturing in their own time. We purchase these chickens from Redwoods Farm who truly believe in this way of farming, they offer a longer target-free lifestyle for the chickens, providing the very best animal welfare all while working them into their regenerative farming system which benefits the soil.

chickens sunbathing on pasture

The Summer Months Preference

Wild birds in close relation to the chicken will typically have 2 clutches of eggs to raise per year, such as the pheasant. One clutch in the spring and one in the late summer/autumn depending on various factors. If a pheasant tried to raise her chicks in the cold of winter, she would have to leave herself vulnerable to predators for a lot longer while nesting on the floor, and once the pheasant chicks hatched and they would require a lot more food (energy) to keep themselves warm at a time of year when there is dramatically less natural food.

This works the same way with farming. Chicks require artificial heat for less time during the summer as it is warm outside anyway. On the contrary, the winter would mean they may have to remain indoors for longer to stay warm until they have more feathers. This is less time on the pasture, more supplementary feed, and a generally higher risk of unhealthy chicks. Our solution is to source the pasture raised chicken during the spring, summer and autumn where they are farmed most naturally.

To supply our customers during the winter, we hold higher stock levels. As we freeze all of our meat the moment it comes to us, we are preserving the best quality chicken which is then available all year round, and therefore are sustainably selling seasonal produce, but out of season.

The health benefits

Eating pasture raised chicken is considered to be a healthy choice of meat due to the chickens own diet themselves remaining very natural. Approximately 50% of their forage is comprised of insects, worms and grasses, this produces a bird without any build of chemicals and artificial substances in their body.

Had they instead been raised on a highly processed diet full of additives, similar to any animal, toxic substances can collect in their bones, liver, kidneys and blood, and therefore throughout their whole body. This is another key reason to avoid soya in their supplementry feed as you can end up with an untraceable feed source, where it may have been treated with pesticides that are banned in the UK, but not in other countries, but it is still legal to import these feeds to the UK. .

This gives us confidence that our products such as the chicken carcass, which are perfect for stocks and soups, will not have any build up of unhealthy chemicals in the actual carcass. Instead, cooking our chicken carcasses will help break down the nutrients from the bone marrow and bones themselves releasing iron, magnesium, phosphurus, collagen (great for your skin) and so many more important minerals and nutrients.

So not only is the chicken we sell sustainably produced, beneficial to the environment and raised with excellent welfare. It is also tastes great and is healthier for your body than chickens fed on a processed grain diet.

pasture raised chicken carcass


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