According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), free range means that chickens have access to the outdoors for at least some part of the day, whether the chickens choose to go outside or not. There are no requirements for length of time the chicken must spend outdoors, the size of the outdoor area or the type of groundcover. Less than 1% of chickens nationwide are raised as “free range,” according to the National Chicken Council.
Is it better for chickens to have access to the outdoors?
While the majority of chickens raised for meat in the U.S. are raised in large barns called “growout houses”, even free range chickens live in some variation of a chicken coup or house.
Not all free range chicken is organic (chickens could be raised with access to the outdoors but not under any of the other criteria needed to be certified organic), but all organic chicken is free range (in order to receive organic certification, chickens must have access to the outdoors, among other criteria).
Additionally, chickens raised in houses are just as healthy as free range chickens.