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Raised to Roam: The Life of Pasture-Raised Chickens

Hens graze on grass on a free-range poultry farm.

Have you ever wondered what a chicken’s life is like? From small-scale hobby farms to large, commercial farms, there is a wide variety of ways to raise chickens. One way that many families and farmers have found to be beneficial is raising chickens on the pasture.  

In this article, we will discover why some people prefer pasture-raised chickens and what type of feed is optimal, such as balanced fortified feeds, conventional, GMO-free, and organic feeds. We’ll also talk about some of the benefits of raising chickens on a pasture and gain greater insight into the benefits of sustainable poultry.

What Is a Pasture-Raised Chicken?

A pasture-raised chicken is a bird raised in a natural environment, allowed to roam freely, and fed on a varied diet. Chickens raised on a pasture have access to fresh air, sunshine, and open fields. These pastured chickens can roam freely, allowing them to engage in natural behaviors like dust bathing, searching for insects, and preening. Thanks to expansive spaces where they can move around without constraint or restriction, the result is a healthier and tastier bird.

What Is the Difference Between Pasture-Raised and Free-Range Chicken?

chicken feeding from a tray

While “pasture-raised” and “free-range” are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. Free-range chickens are allowed access to the outdoors, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have access to fresh pasture.

On the other hand, pasture-raised chickens are raised on actual pastures, where they can forage for grass, insects, and other natural food sources. In short, while free-range chickens may have space to roam, they still may not have access to the same natural environment and varied diet as pasture-raised chickens.

What Are the Benefits of Pasture-Raised Chickens?

Research has shown that pasture-raised chickens have higher levels of beneficial nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and beta-carotene than conventionally raised chickens. For example, one study found that pasture-raised chickens had 21% more omega-3 fatty acids and 19% less saturated fat than conventionally raised chickens.

Pasture-raised meats also have a rich flavor and make delicious chicken wings, roasted whole chicken, and other chicken products. For this reason, some people prefer to use pasture-raised chickens to enhance the flavor of their chicken recipes.

What Are the Benefits of Utilizing Quality Feeds to Nourish Pasture-Raised Chickens?

Raising chickens in pastures allows them to roam and eat grass, insects, and other forage in the field. This part of their diet can cut down on your feed bill, but they still need supplemental feed. Providing high-level nutrition via quality feed produced ethically and sustainably is critical.

To ensure the health of your chickens, it’s important to provide them with protein-packed and nutrient-dense feed. Organic, soy-free, and non-GMO feed is great for this purpose! Moreover, access to clean water should always be available for the birds to stay hydrated.

Best Types of Forage

In addition to providing quality feed, it’s also important to offer various forage options for pasture-raised chickens. These forage options should hold up well to biting and scratching and should be able to recover well from grazing and trampling. Options can include:

chickens foraging in grass
  • Grass, particularly Kentucky bluegrass, is a cool-season perennial grass that has a large portion of its leaves close to the soil surface. Chickens love this option because it is at the optimal foraging height.
  • Clover, especially white clover, is a legume with a great tolerance to grazing. It’s also a cool-season perennial legume with a fibrous root system, which helps give its resistance to grazing.
  • Alfalfa has a long growing season, and is a very productive legume, giving your chickens lots of health benefits. However, it doesn’t recover as quickly as other types of forage options, so wait for at least 25 to 30 days before moving chickens back to the same alfalfa pasture.
  • Perennial Ryegrass provides seeds for your chickens in late spring and may flower again in the mid-summer.

For foraging to be successful and provide chickens with a varied diet, you need to prevent overgrazing to keep the pasture and chickens healthy. The best way to accomplish this responsibility is to separate the foraging options into different fields. Then, as one forage option is nearing the end, you can move the chickens to an area with fresh regrowth ready for the chickens.

Rotating these pastures helps reduce the likelihood of parasites in your chickens as well, since they won’t be in contact with their droppings as often.

The Possibility of Fermenting

But foraging is just one aspect of the pasture-raised chicken’s diet. You also need to supplement with high-quality feeds. To enhance the nutrient content of feed for your pasture-raised chickens, turn to fermentation. Not only does fermented feed provide greater digestibility and nutritional value than regular feed, but it also adds beneficial bacteria that nurture a healthy gut in your poultry. Fermenting has been proven as an ideal way to improve their diet!

Fermenting feed is a simple process – just soak the feed in water and let it sit for 24-48 hours, allowing beneficial bacteria to form. When done correctly, this procedure offers your chickens various health benefits; however, caution must be taken to avoid contamination or spoilage. Once fermented appropriately, the treat can then safely be served up!

Offering Table Scraps

chicken eating lettuce

In addition to supplying quality feed and forage, it’s prudent to supplement a pasture-raised chicken’s diet with judiciously chosen table scraps. You must be mindful when deciding what scraps are fit for the chickens’ consumption. While it may be tempting to let your chickens indulge in all your table scraps, you should always watch the food you give them.

Be sure not to provide any rotten or expired items, and pay attention to how many fatty and sugary snacks they consume, as these are only meant for occasional treats. Alternatively, vegetable peels, cooked grains, and meat trimmings make great low-calorie snack options! Remember that rewards shouldn’t become their primary source of nutrition. Maintain their dietary balance with healthy meals!

Ready to Bring Up Pasture-Raised Chickens? Start with High-Quality Baby Chicks

If you want to do your part in ensuring a higher quality of life for poultry and producing more nutritious and scrumptious food products, then raising chickens on pasture is the way to go. With pastured chicken meat containing richer flavor than other methods – who could resist?!

To ensure the success of raising pasture-raised chickens, remember to start with high-quality baby chicks from an NPIP-certified hatchery, like us. Additionally, high-quality feed and various foraging options are essential. Adding table scraps as a supplement is also an option if desired. Furthermore, fermenting the food would improve its nutritional value even further!