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Free-range, Free-run, Free-kin Confusing!

Posted by Julia Smith on

Rehoboth hens out in the pasture.Navigating the labyrinth of terminology that defines the many different ways table eggs are produced can be frustrating and confusing. Happily, some retailers like Save-on-Foods are making a real effort to demystify things. I've spoken with our local store manager about it and he tells me that since they switched to the new system, they can't keep the free-range eggs on the shelves. That makes me smile. It tells me that consumers really do care about laying hens and want to do the right thing. So this week I thought I'd share with you some more information about where our eggs come from. 

As most of you already know, we work very closely with our friends John & Willy at Rehoboth Farm in Yarrow. We call them our "sister farm" because our farms are so intertwined. We met John & Willy a few years ago and after visiting their farm, we knew they were "our people." They had the most beautiful setup we had ever seen for laying hens and were just getting started with heritage pigs, around the same time we were. Over the past few years we have scaled back our own laying hens and now get all our eggs from Rehoboth. John's been bringing us spent brewery grains for our pigs and we've been loading him up with fresh fruits & veggies for their pigs every week. Most recently, we've merged our pork production and are "job sharing" the pigs in Yarrow so now we get to spend more time with the chickens too. 

Rehoboth chicken barn & pasture.Rehoboth's laying hens are SPCA certified which has the most strict animal welfare standards of any of the available certification options. For a very detailed overview (.pdf) of how the SPCA certification standards compare with others, please click here. In addition to meeting all the requirements for SPCA certification, these hens receive plenty of other perks above and beyond the basic requirements.

While they have large, bright, clean shelters where they can avoid bad weather, roost at night and lay their eggs, these working girls spend most of their days roaming around the 5 acres of chicken pastures adjoining the barn. They eat a specially formulated diet of high quality, unmedicated local grains with no animal byproducts and their diet is supplemented with lots of spent brewery grains from local micro-breweries, fresh forage and a not-so vegetarian diet of bugs and worms from the pasture. This reduces the amount of commercial feed required, transforms a waste product from the breweries into eggs and makes for some happy chickens & really tasty eggs. 

Free-run, Free-range, Pastured, Organic.. what does it all mean?

According to the BC Chicken Marketing Board:

Free Range means that the bird has access to the outdoors.  Due to weather in Canada, the free range season is short.

Free Run means that a bird is able to move freely throughout the barn and is not confined in a cage.  All chickens grown in Canada for meat purposes are free run.

Organic chickens are birds raised using certified organic feed and fresh, untreated drinking water.  The Certified Organics Association of BC (COABC) also requires growers to allow their birds access to pesticide free pasture for a minimum of 6 hours a day, weather permitting. 

As you have probably already noticed, these regulations leave a lot of room for interpretation. Free-range requirements, for example, can be met by simply having a small door leading out to a small outdoor enclosure at the end of a barn filled with chickens who may, more may not have even noticed the door. Organic does specify that the birds have access to pasture for at least 6 hours a day but leaves it up to the farmer to decide if the weather is permitting or not. My personal observation of chickens leads me to believe that chickens are pretty happy to be outside in the weather we typically have locally most of the year. 

There is no clear definition or regulation of the word "Pastured." 

In my opinion, the best environment for chickens is one in which they have free access to pasture where they can scratch and peck and do all those chickeny things they like to do and so if you are buying eggs from us, that's how the hens that laid them will be raised. But you need to make up your own mind about what animal welfare standards are acceptable to you. All I ask is that you do your homework and make sure that the eggs you are buying were produced in a way that matches up with your personal values. 

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