We are excited to say that the first of this year’s pasture-raised chickens are now being included in our shares! Raised in New Hampshire and Vermont with excellent early pasture conditions, our first batches with Steve, Kristen and others came out beautifully.
One of the reasons we started this company was the dramatic difference in flavor we experienced from pasture-based chicken. But there is increasingly strong evidence that the nutritional profile of chicken raised outdoors is quite different from its industrial brethren as well. Our partner farms use movable hoop houses like the ones pictured above at Kristen and Dan’s farm in Newport, New Hampshire, that give the chickens fresh pasture each day.
One of the more frustrating chicken labels out there is “vegetarian fed.” On one hand, this is a positive indicator, as it does imply that the chickens were not fed animal by-products (by-products of other chickens, in particular!). But shouldn’t we aspire to something beyond a commitment to not feed chicken to other chickens?
After all, chickens are omnivores, and require animal proteins to thrive; particularly helpful is methionine – an amino acid of which typical grain-based poultry feeds only contain trace amounts. In typical poultry feeds methionine is provided by synthetically produced protein powders (making these “vegetarian” diets possible). Although the scientific mechanism can’t be pinpointed, there is something inferior about this synthetic – and signs of deficiency include cannibalism and feather plucking, problems common to confinement operations. Research demonstrates these deficiencies can be overcome through forage, and birds with protein deficiencies will naturally increase their consumption of forage in response (see Moritz et al, 2005 and Horstead, 2005, 2006).
Due to the perishability of many water-soluble vitamins, traditional poultry feed can also be deficient in Vitamin B (including riboflavin, folic acid, B6 and B12). All of these are commonly found in perennial pastures, including B12, a vitamin rich in grasshoppers and other insects that chickens consume while outdoors. Again, chickens are omnivores!
Another emerging area of research indicates lower bacterial counts (Salmonella in particular) among birds raised outdoors on pasture. One hypothesis is the abundance of digestible fiber available in pastures, provide a rich food source for the good bacteria Lactobacillus sp and Bifidobacteria. Healthy populations of these good bugs help outcompete bad bugs like Salmonella and other pathogens (see Nurmi and Ratala, 1973 and Esmail, 2012).
There is a strong environmental case for pasture raised chickens as well – but this is a post for another day… until then, enjoy your chicken!
Esmail, S. 2012. Fibre plays a supporting role in poultrynutrition. World Poultry Magazine. February. http://www.worldpoultry.net/Breeders/Nutrition/2012/2/Fibreplays-a-supporting-role-in-poultry-nutrition-WP009965W
Horsted, K. 2006. Increased Foraging in Organic Layers. PhD Thesis. Department of Agroecology, University of Aarhus. Faculty of Agricultural Sciences. http://orgprints.org/10463/1/10463.pdf
Horsted, K., J. Hermansen, and H. Ranvig. 2007. Crop content in nutrient-restricted versus non-restricted organic laying hens with access to different forage vegetations. British Poultry Science. Vol. 48. p.177-184.
Nurmi, E. and M. Ratala. 1973. New aspects of Salmonella infection in broiler production. Nature. Vol. 241. p. 210-211.
Ponte, P. et al. Influence of Pasture Intake on the Fatty Acid Composition, and Cholesterol, Tocopherols, and Tocotrienols Content in Meat from Free-Range Broilers. Poultry Science, Volume 87, Issue 1, 1 January 2008, Pages 80–88, https://doi.org/10.3382/ps.2007-00148.