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Terms like free range and cage free can be quite confusing. Those terms are generally applied to laying hens, which are different from the meat birds known as broilers.
Almost all meat poultry in the US is raised in broiler barns, generally in common configurations of 40 ft wide by 400 ft long, some longer. The barns are stocked with 19,000 birds and up, depending on the final product desired (smaller bird vs bigger bird). In this case, the birds are inside their entire life on sawdust for “litter” and with fresh water and feed administered via automated feeding systems. The lighting is controlled to promote eating around the clock, and ventilation is via large fans that suck out the stale air. Many of these barns are quite clean, but the birds don’t have access to the outside. These barns dot the countryside around Holmes and Wayne counties where the poultry goes to large processing plants nearby.
We feel that the best tasting poultry comes from a system of management called “pasture raised.” Pasture raised means that the bird not only has access to the outdoors, but that they are forced to be outdoors and get the benefits of pasture.
At Wholesome Valley Farm, we raise meat chickens only in the summer time when they have access to fresh grass. The birds are managed in drag pens, sometimes called chicken tractors, where 65 birds are stocked in a 100 square foot pen. The pen is covered for shade and protection, and the birds are moved daily to a new piece of grass. It’s a lot of work and requires a lot of land but the quality of the chickens life and their meat is worth it.