Organic, free-range, range-free, pasture-raised? Have you ever wondered what’s best when it comes to buying chicken, turkey, duck, and game hens? To answer this question, I’m going to excerpt some info from The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook, a book I co-wrote with paleo and primal-diet expert, Don Matesz who runs the Barefoot Acupunture Clinic in Phoenix, AZ, and the Primal Wisdom blog, and from articles we worked on for various publications.
Pasture Fed Is Best
Pasture fed animals are raised outdoors on high quality pasture. They get fresh air and exercise and they get their light from the sun (rather than artificial lighting) and their protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals from the grass and bugs they eat supplemented with non-GMO grains. Unlike factory-farmed poultry, they are never fed animal by-products. In the winter they receive non-GMO grains suplemented with alfalfa, kelp, and flax seed. This old-fashioned method is better for the animals and for us. Here’s why:
Pasture-raised poultry are better nourished than factory-farmed birds raised entirely on grain and soybeans. Fresh pasture food is much more nutrient dense than grain. The result is more nutritious meat and eggs that contain more vitamins and higher levels of carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin than conventional products. These nutrients, also found in many vegetables and fruits, help protect your eyes from UV rays and oxidative damage that can lead to the cataracts and macular degeneration.
Photo credit: Rachel Albert ©Copyright 2010
No Antibiotic Residues
Pasture fed poultry are never given growth hormones or antibiotics. Conventional poultry are often heavily dosed with antibiotics to promote growth and fight disease (caused by living in confinement). This meat may carry measurable antibiotic residues which foster the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, making it hard for your doctor to find an effective treatment if/when you are ill.
Reduced Risk of Infection
Strictly pasture-fed poultry are much less likely to harbor legions of salmonella and other pathogenic bacteria. Furthermore, small farmers selling grass-fed animal products have their animals carefully butchered by local USDA inspected processing houses where sanitation violations are rare compared to mass market facilities.
Photo credit: Rachel Albert ©Copyright 2010
Proper management of pasturelands, including composting and rotational grazing of appropriate animals, is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gasses, restore native plant species, enrich soil, restore groundwater and prevent run-off pollution of waterways. Grazing also is the most efficient of all farming methods, producing more food calories per calorie of invested energy than any other way of farming. In fact, it is up to 10 times more efficient than raising grains or legumes on the same land.
Organic vs. Pasture-Raised
Organic animal products are not the same as grass-fed. By law the organic label can be used only on meats, eggs, and milk from animals raised on feed grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and without hormones or antibiotics.
The organic label says nothing about whether the poultry are raised indoors or outside, or how much room they are given to roam. Pasture-raised poultry run in large moveable pens. Organic poultry are usually confined, kept indoors or given limited access to the outdoors, and fed an exclusive diet of grain and soy beans, making their meat less nutritious and less flavorful than pasture-raised poultry. Pasture-raised poultry is better a step above organic.
Where to Find Pastured Poultry
To be certain you are getting grass-fed poultry, buy meat directly from the farmer whenever possible. Check your local farmers’ markets and ask your friends if they know of a local source. Ask the producer about how he raises the birds. If you live in the greater Phoenix area you can buy pastured poultry from a couple of farmers who deliver to Phoenix on a monthly basis; these farmers don’t have an outlet or distributor in the Phoenix area.
Enter Troyer Poultry
Recently I found out about Troyer Poultry of Olathe, Colorado. Steven Hostetler and his family have been raising poultry on pasture for three years. To increase supply, they currently contract with other farmers in Colorado who raise poultry on pasture for them. They visit each farm twice a month with a check list of requirements that they enforce to keep the product consistent.
A couple of months ago, someone was selling their poultry at the Town & Country Farmers’ Market in Phoenix, AZ. I took home some of their meat, cooked it, liked it, and wanted more. Unfortunately, not enough people knew about the benefits of pastured poultry and too few people purchased it to keep them selling it here in Phoenix. The good news is that they may have a local supplier for their poultry in the new year. I’ll let you know when I know more about this.
In the meantime you can order Troyer Poultry from Grassroots Meats in Pagosa Springs, CO, 81147. Phone: (970) 731-1471. If you live in Colorado or New Mexico, this poultry will be even more local a source for you than for me. Don't be shy, give pastured poultry a try!
If you’ve never tried pastured-poultry, I hope you will. I've found it more flavorful than conventional and even organic poultry. I also like knowing where it comes from, how it was raised, what it was fed, and that it’s more nutritious and ecological. I’d love to hear about your experiences eating pastured poultry.