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Can you buy grass fed chicken in the UK?

With the rising popularity of 100% grass fed beef and lamb, there are more and more searches for the purchase of "grass fed chicken". But is this possible to buy? And what would define a chicken as being grass fed without being misleading to a customer, or factually incorrect?

Do Chickens ever eat grass?

We are commonly told by some passing visitors in our shop that chickens do not eat grass. A sweeping statement that is most definitely untrue.

Although a chicken's main diet isn't solely grass, it is something they will eat, providing them with a good variation of nutrients into their diet. In fact, they eat a lot of greenery alongside grass, such as clover and chicory which typically is included under grass-fed labelling.

It was really important to us to show in our shop that chickens do in fact eat grass, so much so that we took many photos of the chickens we sell, to try and capture the fraction-of-a-second moment of a chicken pecking a piece of grass to eat. We then displayed it on our in-shop traceability posters to visually show our customers the natural instincts of chickens grazing habits.

a grass fed chicken grazing
Chicken grazing on grass

The grasses that chickens consume within their diet, is one of the main reasons their skin turns a golden yellow colour, which creates such a visually impressive meat. This is due to the chlorophyll in grass that ends up creating this colour, in the fat as well as the skin. For our chicken, it is a common misconception that they are corn fed, which is most people's assumption for the origin of the yellow skin. Feeding corn does still create a yellow skin which is an understandable mistake to make. However, the diet for the chickens we source does not include any corn.

Other farmed birds such as geese, are adapted to grazing a lot of grass. Both chickens and geese will search for grit and small stones in the soil, they will eat these which are then stored in the chicken's crop or a goose's widened esophagus. This is effectively where the muscular chewing motion occurs breaking down the grass that is eaten with the grit behaving like teeth.

Geese are so well adapted for this, they have evolved with serrated lamellae (the ridges shown below along their lower mandible) and are efficient at cutting grass to eat. It's no suprise other birds such as chickens are also adapted to eat a small amount of grass too, even if it isn't their main food source as it is with geese.

grass fed goose
The serrated mandibles of a goose cutting grass

The big difference between grass fed and 100% grass fed

It is estimated that our pasture raised chickens obtain up to 50% of their required food directly off the fields, that includes things, not just grass, but leafy vegetation like plantain and chicory, clover, worm and grubs, seeds and grains.

So, if chickens eat grass and like it, why do we bother with supplementary feeds? Why not just let them live completely off the pasture without any input and produce 100% grass fed chicken.

If we tried this, the chickens, which humans have bred for many years to be fed with some grains, would become extremely thin, creating a poor welfare situation. It would be likely that many chickens would die in the process.

If we take an example of a UK bird that is similar to a chicken but living wilder, such as the pheasant. We see a situation where these could almost be classed as living completely off natures diet.

Pheasants however are nearly all bred in forestry commissions, grown for the shoots of the local area, and these are fed grains by gamekeepers which keeps them going. In particular, the pheasant chicks need their feed before being released, when their nutritional requirements are at their highest.

Ultimately, wild shot pheasants have very little meat on in comparison to farmed chickens, which would produce a pittance at market for the farmers, even if they managed to produce something 100% grass fed.

The Chicken we source from Redwoods Farm, obtain approximately 50% of their diet from their extra feed, this ensures they are well fed and grow correctly, unusually it is sourced from UK grains, many of them locally grown to reduce food miles. This also means their feed is soya free, which is great for sustainability of their production.

chicks on a soya free diet
Chicks eating a supplementary soya free diet

Do Chickens taste better when grazing on grass?

What a chicken eats will affect the flavour of how it tastes, the fat on a chicken will be higher in Omega 3s and fatty acids which is partly what gives it the slightly stronger gamier taste.

However, as the chickens are grown slowly for almost twice as long as commercial chickens, the meat has a slightly firmer texture to it which improves the eating experience when compared to a commercial caged raised chicken, where the meat is often almost akin to jelly.

Growing slower, and for longer, also accentuates the grass-fed diets effect on the taste, as it has longer to store these healthy and tasty nutrients.

pasture raised chickens relaxing in the grass at redwoods farm

So why do we sell chicken as pasture raised instead of grass fed?

The main reason we ultimately don't market and sell chicken as grass fed, despite the chickens we source having a diet that includes plenty of grass, is because the term pasture raised better encompasses and describes these chickens and what they eat. As they are raised on pasture, they eat, not just the grass, but smaller worms and insects that live upon it.

When you compare this foraging habit to something that can clearly be titled grass fed, such as our 100% grass fed beef cattle, where their diet is just the vegetation on the land. It becomes clear in their differences, for cattle are not specifically seeking grubs and grains where the chickens are a lot more determined to eat.

It wouldn't necessarily be completely misleading to label a chicken to having been grass fed, but as this title really is only part of the story, we have stuck with pasture raised, and "grass fed chicken" will unlikely become a common label in the future unless their diet is over 50% actual grass.

chicken foraging


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