Free range: If no broiler chickens are raised in cages, what does the term free range mean?

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.

All chickens need protection from predators and the outside elements. Free range chickens are provided varying degrees of shelter based on producer preference, and conventional chickens live in large, open structures called growout houses where they are free to walk around and commune with other chickens. In practice, most chickens stay close to water and feed, which is usually located inside the chicken house. Young chickens need more shelter and temperature control as they’re less able to regulate body temperature. As the chickens grow bigger and feather out, they require cooler temperatures to regulate body temperature.

Is free range chicken organic?

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.

Looking for more information?

If you’re curious about what other labels you might find on packages of chicken mean, check out this infographic on common chicken labeling terms.

See what an actual chicken growout house looks like in this video: Housing and Ventilation Systems on the Farm.

Find out how chicken farmers ensure the flock stays biosecure and safe from predators in this video: Biosecurity and Health Management.