Hello friends. This week I want to write about questions I get a lot. What exactly is free-range chicken? What makes it better for you and the planet?
First off, if you’ve never had it—please come on over to the Market to pick up some free-range chicken. We would be happy to help you find what you’re looking for. And don’t forget the pairing while you’re at it—we love Martin Brothers Wildflower Mead with this chicken!
This week’s featured farmer is Good Ole Days Farm, Mennonite farmers from Fortuna, Missouri. Their specialty is free-range chicken that are drug and added hormone free, non-plumped and fresh-frozen. You can buy their quality products here at the Farm to You Market. Take a look at their simple, yet effective, setup for happy local chickens here.
What exactly does “free-range” mean?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines free-range chickens as chicken that come from producers who demonstrate that their chickens have been allowed access to the outside. Typically, chickens that are raised using free-range methods have continuous access to the outdoors for more than 51 percent of their lives. Free-range chickens should be able to roam around, get fresh air and sunshine, and have contact with other chickens.
Why is it better for you?
Conventionally raised chickens are raised using hormones and antibiotics. People that don’t want those added drugs in their diet may choose free-range as a more natural option. Lower quality chicken feed, which may be given to conventionally-raised chickens, is likely to contain pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Chickens raised conventionally may also be exposed to ammonia and bad bacteria.
Katie Geisert, owner of the Farm to You Market and Barnyard Café notes that, “When you shop, a conventionally-raised chicken will also contain injected saline to extend the shelf life of the product. Check the label—chickens aren’t a naturally salty protein.” This process, often called “plumping” or “enhancing” has become the industry standard for conventionally-raised chicken.
These injections can include many different ingredients to add moisture and flavor as well as to give the meat a longer expiration date. According to the Premiere Foods Group, plumping with “natural flavor” became necessary as birds were raised to have larger, lean breast meat – thus eliminating some of the natural fat, and flavor. These injected salts and “flavors” can amount to between 15-30% of the total weight of your bird and up to 60% of your sodium intake—before you even count the rest of your meal!
Katie Geisert says, “Plumping It isn’t necessary for birds that are flash frozen immediately after being harvested. The all natural, free-range chicken that you buy from us at the Farm to You Market is such a different experience if you’re used to injected chicken. The meat looks, feels and tastes the way it’s meant to—and we think you’ll be able to tell the difference.”
Why is it better for the planet?
If the welfare of animals is important to you, eating cage-free is the way to go. Conventionally raised chickens are often prevented from engaging in normal chicken behavior—such as foraging, flapping their wings and taking a nice dust bath. Being kept in a cage for their entire lives doesn’t make for very happy animals. In addition, there’s a natural balance to be found between animals and farmers—chickens are meant forage for bugs and help eat leftovers while their manure fertilizes the soil. Conventional chicken farming largely eliminates this symbiotic relationship. It also pumps 500 million tons of manure into manure pits or lagoons which is eventually applied to farm fields in quantities that far exceed its efficacy.
“We have high standards for the farmers in our year-round farmers market,” says Todd Geisert, our resident farmer. “The proteins that you buy here are raised ethically, the animals are happy—and yes, that matters—plus they aren’t injected with drugs or added hormones. It’s just better for you, and for the world.”
In The Cafe
From time to time, we feature chicken in our specials and our dinners in the cafe. Last week, our weekly sandwich special featured Asian-inspired chicken salad using Good Ole Days chicken leg and thigh meat we braised. It’s delicious! Chicken goes well with any flavor you lend it to, but flavors like cilantro, lime, chili paste – superb!
The amazing thing about chicken is if you start with a great piece of chicken, it doesn’t take much kick it up in flavor – any cuisine has a spice-mix or flavor pairing to make chicken taste even more fantastic. Whether you’re slow cooking thighs in a braise, frying wings, pounding breast out thin and sauteing it, or even poaching in a delicious broth.. the possibilities are endless with chicken.
I hope you’ve found this as interesting as I did. Keep watching us on social media and email this week—we will have more information as well as café menu items, shopping lists and cooking instructions for free range chicken. We will also have the “Baby Bears” from our marketing team over at Branding Bear cooking chicken legs for Sunday dinner with the family.
As always, please comment and share. I’d love to know your thoughts—and see your cooking successes!