what does free range mean?

For all the farmers and ag types out there. What does free-range mean? I’ve been told that in order to qualify as free range a chicken would only have to touch the ground once in its life, then be put back in the coop, never to leave again. Is this untrue propaganda? What are the real restrictions, and are there companies taking chickens for a walk around the yard once? I looked at the USDA website, but after several minutes looking at attention grabbing “egg sales by month” charts I decided it would be easier to ask.

Free range should mean what you think it means: they are free to come and go. They, of course, tend to stay around their source of food.

For an official definition, keep looking for your egg sales by month charts.

Free-range means one thing in the mind of the public and quite another in practice.

In practice a farmer allows hens access to the outside compound through small hen sized doorways.What happens is that dominant hens will gaurd the doorway allow few other hens to pass.Result is that the vast majority of birds never see the outside world.

With pigs the UK is well ahead of most of the rest of the world.Pigs are reared outdoors and each sow has its own shelter.When you look in a field used for pig rearing you will see loads of low ,usually corrugated iron, miniature blister huts with a clear area all round each one.The animals undergo far less stress but it makes it far harder for pig-farmers to compete as costs are higher.
Myself I would not touch pig produce from abraod as our standards are so much better than the rest of Europe.The produce costs more but not enough to worry about.
I do not doubt that other improvements can be made but this is very much progress away from the breeding stalls.

I think free-range originally meant that an animal is able to sustain itself off the land. I suspect nowdays it means that an animal has some freedom of movement but the term has been stretched to the limits by some that you really can’t say their animals are free-ranged.

And all this time I thought it meant it was grown in the West on gubbiment BLM land…

Casdave: We’ve owned hundreds of chickens, and not once have I ever witnessed a hen blocking the way. They fought occassionally, but free access to and fro was always allowed.


The mass hen huts that we have there a doorway that is a fair old height off the ground with a locking door.This is to stop predators like foxes gaining access.It’s locked at night and the ramp removed.To reach the doorway on both sides there is a ramp which is usually about one hen wide and not much more than that.It’s the passage along this walkway that causes the problems.

On our land, we have a detached two bay service garage. We turned 1/6 or so of it into a chicken coop, using fiberboard walls. We put railings about 1, 3, and 5 feet above the ground for the chickens to roost on, and nesting boxes on the other wall for egg laying. The floor was covered with about 6" to 12" of hay, which was changed every few weeks. The exit was a window in the wall. The window was held open via a chain and hook during the day, and closed and locked via the chain and hook at night. The window was about 1-2 foot off the ground in the coop, and about 3-4 feet off the ground outside. On the inside, we didn’t use a board, but on the outside, we used a 2x8 with 2x4 cleats every few feet. At night, the board was kicked to the ground. The yard was about 30 feet by 15 feet, divided lengthwise into two yards, the second of which had a smaller house built out of a dog house. The yard was made of buried chickenwire (about 6-8 inches deep, and lined with large stones, to stop digging mammals), with a woven wire top. All was supported by a lattice of 1.5" PVC pipe, and attached to the garage via 2x4s.

All in all, we had chickens for the better part of 10 years, and we went through hundreds of hens, and dozens of roosters, and bajillions of eggs.

We never once had a problem with a hen disallowing access to the yard. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but based on my experience, I would have to say it’s uncommon, even rare. Perhaps it’s a “bus on the corner” type thing.