How to start a free-range poultry farm?

Free range Poultry Farming

Free range denotes a method of farming husbandry where the animals, for at least part of the day, can roam freely outdoors, rather than being confined in an enclosure for 24 hours each day.

The term "free-range" brings to mind wide open spaces with animals living in nature, eating natural foods, and soaking in the sunlight. However, there are no government regulations in place in the United States to ensure this is the case.

What Is Free-Range Chicken?

"Free-range" is a term that refers to a method of animal husbandry where animals are able to roam freely outdoors rather than being confined by an enclosure for 24 hours a day. The USDA says "free-range" or "free-roaming" chicken must be "allowed access to the outside,"* but that can be interpreted in many different ways. Larger producers, unfortunately, have been known to follow only the letter of the law, not its spirit, and put open windows or small doors that lead to paved patches of the ground at the ends of large, crowded hen houses that are from anyone's idyllic notion of farm life or the best possible life for a chicken. These chickens can then legally be labeled "free-range" even though their habitat is far from what anyone would consider all that free.

How to start a free-range poultry farm?
How to start a free-range poultry farm?

Importantly, there are many farmers who do, in fact, give lots of free-range to their free-range chickens, whose chickens have real, meaningful access to the outdoors, and are even free to roam (usually within large, moveable enclosures) on real fields and actual pastures, hunting and pecking for extra food along the way. Many farmers even use hay bales or old farm equipment to create environments for the chickens to explore and exhibit natural behavior such as roosting and climbing.

Chickens in Their Natural Environment

Some smaller farms give their chickens real freedom during the day to explore far and wide (chickens naturally want to roost and gather closely at night, so both their natural behavior and their protection from predators are being respected when they're put in a coop at night). These chickens may even gather a significant amount of their food themselves. These farms will often put the label "pastured," which has no legal or regulated meaning, on their chickens to differentiate them from the less-free legal definition of free-range chickens.​

If nothing else, free-range chickens are, at least, kept cage-free. So the label isn't meaningless, it can just be a bit misleading if you're imaging chickens roaming through pastures or bopping around the barnyard to their own tune.

Why Free range chickens are better?

Free-range chickens are happier, healthier chickens, so they produce tastier meat. Some believe this is due to lower cortisol levels, which can toughen up meat, or to increased exercise that better develops their muscles, creating a juicier texture.

Do free range chickens taste better?

The conclusion is that exercise develops chicken muscles, which positively affects texture and flavor. So, it looks like the Dan Barbers of the world may be right: the pastoral vision of free-ranging animals really does make for better tasting food, at least in chickens.

How much feed do free-range chickens need?

A Starting Point for How Much to Feed Chickens Each Day

However, there is a simple figure to provide you with a solid starting point: 1/4 of a pound per fully grown chicken per day. This means each chicken will eat approximately 1.5 pounds of feed in a week.

How many chickens can free-range on one acre?

That's about as much as most chicken yards can absorb unless you go to a lot of extra effort. Fifty hens per acre has been considered to be the free-range sweet spot for over 100 years.

How fast do free-range chickens grow?

The fact that free-range chickens may take longer than five to six weeks to be ready for market is of no consequence if you can produce your own cheap feed.

Why is free-range meat healthier?

And one study confirmed that free range chicken is both lower in fat and higher in protein, iron and zinc compared to meat from conventional birds. Grass fed and free range animals are able to freely roam, which means they improve the use of the land the graze on.

Is organic chicken free range?

Does organic mean free range? Basically yes; it's free range with benefits. Organic chickens and egg-laying hens enjoy similar, if not necessarily controlled, freedoms. While they may spend a good amount of time in barns or fairly confined areas, they must have daily access to outdoor areas.

Is free-range chicken farming profitable?

Free range chickens are very profitable, so if you reinvest the profits you get, you can quickly grow. You will require a good free-range chicken and eggs production business plan to guide you in your business. Free range chickens have a higher price than broiler chickens, as they are considered to be more superior.

Where to Buy Free-Range Chicken

If you're concerned with how the chicken you buy was raised, the best way to seek out local or regional farms that sell at certified farmers markets, at specialty stores or co-ops with humanely raised standards, or through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) models. Some of these types of farms even host farm visits once a while so you can see just where your food comes from.

* From the USDA website: "Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside."

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