What is Pastured Poultry

Is it really better than conventional or simply organic poultry?


Matt Prine

6/30/20235 min read

Pastured Poultry: Sustainable, ethical, and healthier for both bird and human

Historically, raising poultry was not a commercial agriculture endeavor. The "every man" had his own flock of backyard chickens that provided eggs and meat to his family. However, in recent years, as our society has become more urban, the job of raising poultry moved from the back yard farmer to the industrial farmer. The result has been that fewer people have been producing exponentially more meat to be able to meet the growing demands of our society. To fulfill such demands, commercial farming operations have had to greatly scale up their operations, resulting in a system that is unsustainable, hardly ethical to the animals, and not as healthy for the end consumer. You simply cannot replicate what nature provides when you cram hundreds of thousands of chickens into a massive chicken house.

Because of the rising awareness of how some of these animals are treated, there has been a growing interest in a different way of farming. Some would say a "new" way of farming - but it is really a returning to a time gone by. These old school farming practices prioritize animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and the production of high-quality, nutritious food. Enter the now common phrase - pastured poultry. When poultry are raised on pasture, they are allowed to roam freely and enjoy a range of benefits. My hope is to share what I have experienced first-hand in our own journey towards raising chickens and turkeys on pasture. I believe that there are numerous advantages it offers to farmers, consumers, and something many don't think about - the birds.

What is Pastured Poultry?

I define pastured poultry very simply: Allowing poultry to be poultry as God designed them to be.

Chickens and turkeys were never meant to spend their lives crammed in commercial chicken houses like sardines, breathing in air polluted by noxious ammonia, under artificial lights. They are meant to peck, scratch, and roll in good soil that is filled with micronutrients and good bacteria. They are meant to eat grasses and plants, chase down bugs, and find seeds. This is the beauty of pastured poultry - they are provided with fresh pasture, sunlight, and the opportunity to exhibit their natural behaviors. This farming approach promotes happier birds and happier birds yield nutrient-dense, tasty meat for your dinner table.

Benefits of Raising Poultry on Pasture:

Enhanced Animal Welfare:

One of the primary advantages of pastured poultry farming is the improved welfare of the chickens. This is a BIG deal for us. The ability to express their natural instincts contributes to overall well-being and reduces stress - which produces a better end product. But for us, it is more than that. Part of our conviction is that these animals were created by God and he entrusted them to us to steward well. Being created by God means that they are owed a certain level of dignity. As we treat these animals with the highest level of care, we do so to honor their creator.

Nutrient-Dense Meat:

Pastured poultry offers superior nutritional value compared to conventionally raised chicken. It might be one of those "duh" moments but we have found that pastured poultry are much more nutrient dense than their conventional counterparts. Pastured birds tend to produce meat and eggs with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. The diet rich in insects, grass, and plants produce meat with a much more nutritious profile.

Improved Meat Flavor & Texture:

I cannot tell you how many times we have had company over for dinner and they have been blown away by how much better our chicken tastes. It is honestly part of the reason that we launched our company! If people liked it this much, then there must be something to what we are doing. Poultry that has access to a diverse range of forage develop stronger, fuller flavors compared to their conventionally raised birds. The meat tends to be more succulent, with a better texture and a deeper, more satisfying taste - making dinner time an experience and not just a meal. I also think that part of the reason that our birds taste better is because of the exercise that they get. Our birds are moving much of the time. Sure, they will find a shady spot to rest in the heat of the day, but most of the time you can find them running after a cricket or chasing another bird that happened to catch the cricket!

Better Land Management:

One of the things that I have found as I rotate my chickens and turkeys through pastures, is that my pastures look incredible a few weeks after I have rotated the birds off. Poultry grazing behavior helps control weed growth, which eliminates the need for herbicides. Poultry grazing behavior helps to control insects and pests, eliminating the need for pesticides. Lastly, as they live their best life possible, they are spreading their manure all over the pasture. In a concentrated amount, this can be devastating for the soil - as it is a "hot" fertilizer - being spread sparingly on the pasture can work wonders for the soil health which eliminates the need for chemical/synthetic fertilizers.

Soil Regeneration:

Something that has blown my mind is the ability for pastured poultry to regenerate soil. They can actually help to build up the top soil layer and create an environment where plants thrive. As they peck and scratch the ground, the aerate the soil and help to reincorporate organic matter into the soil - both from their droppings AND from the green manure of plants. This not only increases fertility of the soil, it actually builds the soil up! It is like creating top soil from thin air! When this happens, the soil becomes better at retaining water, sequestering carbon, and bringing forth new life to do it all over again!

Increased Biodiversity:

In our monocropping, giant scale farming system, pasture poultry farming breaks the mold. It utilizes and empowers the growth of diverse plant species which result in fewer plant diseases and a healthier root system in our pastures. The bird activity also stimulates a more diverse insect population, including beneficial insects that aid in pest control. Essentially, the goal of pastured poultry farming is to create a little ecosystem that all works together in harmony - creating a balanced and resilient environment that supports not only the poultry but a myriad of other plants, insects - and other animals. I haven't even mentioned multi-species rotational grazing!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my dive into the world of pastured poultry. Not only have I found it to be a more sustainable and holistic approach to raising birds, I have found that the end product is better than just keeping my birds in a coop and only feeding them bags of organic feed. Additionally, it has provided my customers with healthier and tastier chickens and turkeys that benefit their whole family. My gut tells me that as people wake up to what is happening on large scale with our commercial farms, they are going to want to find an alternative to conventionally raised meats. They are going to want something that aligns with their values - and their health.

People who want this level of quality and care in their poultry are either going to need to raise it themselves, or find a producer, like Freedom Poultry, to patronize - and we would love to serve you in this way.

A Caveat...

One distinction that I think needs to be made is that pastured poultry isn't necessarily organic. It is possible that pastured birds are raised on grass that has been sprayed with herbicides or chemical fertilizers. I say this because in your quest to find pastured poultry near you, if the farm is not certified organic, then you should ask if they treat their pastures in any way. In many instances, proponents of pasture raising poultry seek to go beyond an organic standard in their process - but you should ask to be sure! ;)