Choosing Chicken: A Primal Purchasing Guide

Poultry: a Primal staple that complements any kind of fare any time of day (nothing like chicken hash for breakfast!). There’s more to poultry than chicken of course (more on that another time), but make no mistake: chickens these days aren’t created equal. Breeding, feeding and other poultry farming standards result in animals that scarcely resemble each other, let alone taste the same. To the Primal point, however: when it comes to judging a chicken’s nutritional profile, a little info can go a long way. Today’s item of business: choosing the best Primal chicken for the money.

As I’ve said many a time before, modern agricultural practices result in food that bears little resemblance to Grok’s dietary staples. Not only is it helpful to know the raising condition of the chicken you’ll eat (stress doesn’t make for tasty poultry), but the feed these birds receive in large part determines the nutritional profile (as well as toxins and other unsavory bits) they’ll offer. At issue in the last few years is the widespread use of arsenic in chicken feed, which can both promote growth and help prevent disease. This arsenic additive, although not the most toxic form we associate with poisoning, nonetheless shows up in the poultry meat (PDF) and the people who eat chicken products. Despite the less toxic form, no one is arguing that is good for people.

The controversy surrounding feed doesn’t end there. For example, there’s the issue of animal byproducts. Ground up animal parts, bone meal, and the floor droppings of animal pens make it into the feed used by many an industrial farm. Even under the best conditions, chickens like most livestock are fed grains and soybeans. Is this really the best we can do? Is it worth paying good money for? What is the full range of options when it comes to a healthy chicken dinner? Let’s take a look.


Yes, those baffling tags which leave you wondering whether you’re being sold a bill of goods. Answer: sometimes yes and sometimes no. Here’s a quick and dirty primer on what they mean (and don’t mean)….


I’ll start with probably the most useless label in the bunch. There’s a huge brouhaha about this one now going on in the political arena, especially in California. The gist of the label is this: no artificial colors, flavors, or other ingredients, no preservatives and “minimal processing.” Pretty much anything in the meat aisle that’s left unflavored would qualify. At the center of the political controversy, poultry can still be pumped up with a salt solution and still bear the “all natural” label.

Free Range

Important note: this isn’t the same as pastured. Essentially, this label indicates that the birds weren’t raised in cages. The rest is a question mark. They likely had limited access to the outdoors, and they might have still lived in crammed conditions common to industrial poultry farms. According to USDA rules, free range denotes a mere five minutes of open air access per day, which could mean a small gate was open to a paved lot. The “option” is what fills the letter of the USDA law here. Unless you know your farmer and his/her raising methods, I’d say this label is pretty meaningless.

100% Vegetarian Diet

The idea here isn’t a vegetarian chicken. (Chickens aren’t natural vegetarians, since they forage on bugs when left to their own devices.) This label shows that they didn’t have access to pasture, but it does indicate that the birds were fed grains and possibly grasses. The important part is that their feed didn’t contain animal byproducts, which can mean ground up animal parts and feces. (What they get into while crammed in those industrial shelters is another story….)


Although you’d think this would be just for the feed, guess again. Chicken houses – especially large industrial farming structures – are subject to the infestation of all kinds of pesky critters like lice and rodents. As a result, repeated doses of insecticides are part and parcel of most poultry birds’ existence.

Raised without antibiotics/No antibiotics administered/Antibiotic-free

Their birds, the company promises, didn’t receive antibiotics at any time. Farms asserting this claim are supposed to remove sick animals from the herd and refrain from selling them under this label. You may also see “Raised Without the Routine Use of Antibiotics,” which means antibiotics could have been given for treatment of illness but not for preventative measures.

Raised without added hormones/No hormones administered/No added hormones

Given that U.S. law prohibits the use of growth hormones in poultry birds, consider this another useless label.

Pastured or Pasture-Raised

This is the label I suggest looking for, but don’t be surprised if the search presents a challenge. Pastured suggests that the birds lived on pasture and got some of their food from the pasture environment. For poultry, this usually means that the bird get about 20% of its food from pasture source (grass, seeds and bugs) and 80% from grain/grasses feed mixes (corn, oats, soybeans alfalfa, clover, etc.). Ask your farmer what he/she uses for feed. Chickens, unlike cows, don’t have the digestive ability to live on pure grass, but the inclusion of fresh pasture sources in their diet naturally boosts the nutritional content (vitamins and omega-3s) of the poultry.


Heritage breeds are hard to come by and pricey when you do. Nonetheless, if you’re up for the adventure and want to support the agricultural diversity movement, you’ll likely enjoy a healthy, richer tasting bird raised in a pastured, small farm environment. Check out these resources for more info on heritage chickens and other heritage poultry varieties.


This is a label truly worth its salt. To use this label, the farm must meet USDA standards and be officially certified through the USDA. Here’s what the label promises in a nutshell: (for the birds themselves) 100% organic feed, no animal byproducts, no hormones, no antibiotics, outdoor access, no irradiation, no pesticides (for the feed), no synthetic fertilizers, no sewage sludge (yes, folks, you read that right), no synthetic pesticides, and no GMO. Farmers who are in the process of converting to fully organic practices can use the term “transitional.”

Beyond Organic

Jumping through the hoops for organic certification/recertification is no small (or cheap) venture. As a result, some farmers have chosen to run their farms with fully organic practices – oftentimes stricter yet than organic – but without USDA certification. Instead, they chose to go by individual relationships with consumers and businesses and by their reputation in the region. Other farmers associated with the label purposefully relinquished their certification to protest the shifting “culture” of the organic label as large industry-owned farms make up an increasing percentage of USDA organic certifications.

Primal Choices

Here’s how I’d prioritize the options.

  1. Pastured – It’s harder to come by and pricier than organic, but the poultry offers more nutritionally through extra nutrients like vitamin E, folic acid and B-12 as well as more omega-3s. Even though pastured chicken might not be labeled antibiotic-free, it’s likely the farm doesn’t use medication. It’s extra work to pasture birds, which indicates a greater commitment on the farmer’s part. Plus, the chickens are less likely to need antibiotics when they live on a natural diet with plenty of space.
  2. Organic – Although pastured chicken provides nutritional extras, organic poultry at least ensures that you’re not getting a dose of pesticides, arsenic, and antibiotics with your dinner.
  3. 100% Vegetarian Feed – If a chicken isn’t pastured, the non-vegetarian part of the feed is likely animal by-products. Need I say more?
  4. Antibiotic-Free – This one’s probably self-explanatory.
  5. Free Range – Sure, free range can mean a lot of things, but it at least suggests there was some opportunity for movement and a slightly healthier/more humane living environment. It’s a tough call but probably better than fully conventional. This is a case where it’s especially helpful to know the farmer/company and the particulars of their practice.
  6. Conventional – Regardless of where you live, you should be able to find poultry that ensures vegetarian feed. Personally, I’d suggest staying away from chicken that can’t promise that much. That said, as with other meats, if conventional is all you can afford or have access to it’s better than no meat at all. Just eat the leaner cuts, since toxins concentrate in fat.

Purchasing Sources

As for purchasing sources, know that your regular grocer might not be the best way to go. Even if the store carries pastured and/or organic chicken, you could pay a premium and not get the freshest poultry out of the deal. Still, if you prefer a traditional grocery store for convenience or are limited to this kind of source, be sure to let the management know you regularly purchase the “specialty” (i.e. lower turnover) product and offer to buy it frozen and/or in bulk. You might nab yourself a decent discount. I’d also recommend buying whole birds as well, since they stay fresher longer and are generally a better deal anyway.

Rest assured that there are plenty of other purchasing options in all parts of the country. Local co-ops, farmers’ markets and CSAs are all great places to look for reasonably priced pastured and/or organic chicken. Go in with a friend or family member to buy in bulk and save even more. Although some pastured/organic poultry farms don’t organize their own chicken shares, they sometimes partner with larger CSA farms in the area and advertise their poultry deals through those memberships and websites. It’s worth a call around. Be sure to check out resources like, and the American Grassfed Association for pastured/organic farms in your area as well as farms that ship direct.

Finally, you can always join the growing “backyard chicken movement” and raise your own. Hats off to anyone who does!

On that note, folks, I’ll turn it over to you. How do you pick your poultry? Have you found a farm you’ve come to depend on? Do you have mail order sources you’ve used and would recommend to others in the MDA group? Thanks for your ideas and insights, and have a great week!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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99 thoughts on “Choosing Chicken: A Primal Purchasing Guide”

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  1. We purchase pastured chicken exclusively. And, as farmers market managers, my husband and I have the luxury of visiting the farms personally so we know exactly how those broilers are raised. While you’d be hard-pressed to find a pastured operation that doesn’t include some form of supplemental feed, a good one will ensure that the feed is GMO-free or, better yet, completely soy-free.

    Most of them also rely on heritage breeds which are hardier in our high altitude, but can have a gamier flavor – they definitely need a good brining before roasting.

  2. Honestly, I have been unable to find the kind of chicken I want to eat in the grocery store. I just won’t eat it any meat unless I can see how it’s raised and what it’s fed. Vegetarian birds (and eggs) are loaded with soy. Chickens are not vegetarians either so what does keeping them on this type of substandard diet do to the nutritional density of their meat and eggs?

    The farmer we currently get our birds and eggs from pastures her birds and feeds a 100% organic feed using herring instead of soy as the protein base.

    We move (a lot) because of my husband’s job. That means that every new city we move to (about every two years on average), I’ve had to source new farmers that produce the type of food we’re looking for. With chicken, that means soy-free, organic feed, pasture raised, heritage breeds. It takes a lot of searching, but in the last 15 years, I’ve been successful everywhere we’ve lived.

    The best chicken I ever had was from farmers who had a small, private abattoir on their farm and fed their chickens scraps of fat, tissue, and protein from the solely pastured bison, beef, and lamb they butchered. I can not explain the difference. Suffice it to say that those chickens, I know, tasted the way they should.

    Buying chicken directly from the farmer often means buying in bulk, once or twice a year. It can be a hefty financial layout all at once, but it’s much more cost effective in the long run. We only buy the whole chicken that I can cut up if I want to make a curry or something. Usually, we roast the whole thing and then use the bones and jiggly bits to make a kick arse bone broth.

    1. Hi Tara,

      I read yor comment with interest. I currently live in Montana and am moving to Sedona soon. I would be interested in knowing how you found this farmer.

      Thanks for the comment and insight,


  3. I’m in Orange County (so. cal) and although there are a lot of stores here, there isn’t a lot of chickens being raised as far as I know. Can anyone recommend where I can purchase the best chicken in this area?

    1. I just said this in my post. But, go to your supermarket and look for Smart Chicken brand. I used to buy this before buying pastured chickens. It is 100% organic which is 2nd best to local pastured chickens as mark says.

      They are a popular brand I believe. Hopefully you can find a local farm though!

      1. Do NOT buy smart chicken, it’s smells like bleach, many consumers are complaining about the fact that all their chicken smells like it’s dipped in bleach, I just took it back for the 3rd time because of this, won’t be buying it ever again

    2. Look up Rainbow Ranch Farms, they’re in Pinyon Hills which isn’t quite in OC, but they ship throughout So. California. Not the cheapest chickens, but tasty and sustainable.

      1. Jennifer, thank you for your wonderful post. I came to visit this site because we had 4 new farm members sign-up today and they all mentioned this site, 2 of which mentioned your post. Thank you! From Xenia

      2. OMGosh…I live in Pinon Hills…just looked up Rainbow Ranch Farms…they are awesome…5 minutes from my house, organic poultry & beef…THANK YOU…

        I’ve been buying organic chickens from Trader Joes, and they’re really good…But Rainbow Farms is FRESH!

      3. We have been members for 5 years. we pick-up at the farm. My family has volunteered and the farmers are honest and helpful. animals are free rnage, heritage breeds. Grown with No corn, no soy, and they use no G.M.Os. We are on the beef share and the poultry CSA. My kids never want to leave the farm, they love it there.

  4. and are both good resources to help people find local/pastured meats and farmers markets in their areas. My other secret weapon is Craigslist! I’ve found sources for beef, poultry, and pork on all three sites, and have been able to compare for proximity, price, and farming practices.

    And, we have our very own backyard chickens, though they are all for laying eggs and not for eating (yet, anyway!). It’s really not that difficult to do, they’re fairly amusing animals, and they are perfectly legal in many places. I live in an urban setting, and chickens are no problem! We recently bought turkeys to raise for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which should be quite the adventure come “harvest” time.

    1. How many eggs do your chickens lay per day? My parents have friends who just started to raise chickens. Apparently each one will lay 7 eggs per day… is this true for you?

      1. Are you sure they’re not getting 7 eggs a day out of the entire flock? A hen will typically only lay one egg a day and in the dark days, she’ll lay far fewer and will likely stop laying eggs altogether until spring.

      2. My brother-in-law typically gets 4 to 6 eggs a day from his 4 chickens.

        1. That’s highly unusual! Most hens only lay once per day at their peak. However, sometimes their clocks can get whacked out.

  5. I live in Grand Rapids, MI and am therefore blessed enough to live 5 miles from the Fulton Street Farmers Market. This market is in the running for the best farmers markets in the US! Yes, lucky me 🙂

    Therefore, I buy as much of my food as possible from this farmers market. I buy all my eggs from this farm that says their birds are pastured. I am told they roam around the grass all day long soaking up the sunshine, and eating the grass, insects and grubs. They are fed grain, but just a little and it is all organic. The farmer claims that the birds have to eat a little grain as they can’t live off of just grass.

    I am glad Mark verified this in this post.

    The cost of whole chickens from other farms are $2.50 per lb. To me, this is very cheap. I sometimes buy Organic chickens from Smart Chicken for $3.49 per lb. Or you can buy the chicken breast at $7.99 per lb. but I am finding that this is NOT worth it.

    If you can, go to your farmers market! You will find the best quality food for the best price. If you don’t have awesome farms near you then just move to Grand Rapids, MI 🙂

  6. My mom has three back yard chickens up in Portland. Best eggs I’ve ever had. Fairly low maintenance, too.

  7. The only ‘non-vegetarian’ element of poultry feed is fish meal. Birds fed this type of feed produce eggs with a much improved Omega 3/6 ratio. Telling people to avoid these is not good advice.

  8. I get my chicken from a local organic chicken farmer up here in Ontario, just outside of toronto…Clements Poultry.

    Organic standards are slightly different up here as the animals don’t have to be patured/access to the outdoors unfortunately.

    As for “Backyard Chickens” we have some pretty antiquated laws here that prevent us from keeping chickens in our yards. There are several people here fighting this, but it has been a long slog for them and no foreseeable positive outcome.

    My brother-in-law lives in a village outside of Kingston (ON) and has 4 chickens for eggs. He has them in a movable coop and the eggs are fantastic.

    1. A cool, quick satellite search on Google will give you a peek into Clement’s Poultry – nary a chicken to be seen. That big building – the chicken house is a clue into what’s going on in their operation (if you’re intereted).

      I’m in Ontario too, very close to you. I wrote, above, about sourcing our chickens here. There are some fantastic chicken farmers in this area, doing it right, without soy, on pasture and raising delicious birds as a result.

      1. Could you give me the names/location/#s of these farms so I can contact them as well?

      2. I live in Toronto too and will appreciate it if you share some info about those farms. What I find weird is that my organic butcher shop doesn’t differentiate between organic and pasture raised or grass fed and that makes me a bit uneasy about what I buy; so, I’m in search of farms to source my protein.

        1. Click on my name and send me an email. I’ll email you back with their names and contact information.

        2. Tara, your name take me to your blog and I see no way to email you.

          You can send me the info at zedpoint[at]zedpoint[dot]com

  9. Great stuff. But, I won’t need such a sign on the chickens I will get from my parents 😀

  10. Here in UK, i have found generally healthier met and chicken than in the US from my own experience. My chicken comes from organic food delivery where they keep only 500 chickens per farm and its certified free range organic. one whole 1.5 kilo chicken is for 15 quid ( 22 doillars)

    my 2nd source is a farmers market where i know the farmer and he claims that the birds are out 2/3rd of the day and stay natural but its not certified organic. two 1.5 kilo chickens for 11 quid( about 18 dollars).

    There is a difference in taste from above two good sources. the organic one is more creamy and has a richer texture and fat while the later one is more lean. i don’t know what to make of it. any clues?

    1. Hey Amit, Am also in the UK and would be interested to know where you get your chickens from?

      1. Where abouts in UK Claudine? One of my sources is here in Reading where we have a good farmers’ market every 1st and 3rd saturday.

        My second option is online organic veg delivery people who also sell really good meat. I am trying to paste a link here but if it doesnt go through, please google – riverford norton UK- and you will find it. There are different meat boxes you can choose from and also do individual orders( has to be over 25 quid)..

        hope you enjoy it.


        1. I second the recommendation for Riverford – great meat (and veg) and the chicken in particular is excellent. Pretty decent value too, and good on animal welfare. Also worth checking out is Laverstoke Park (mostly online delivery but a few products now in supermarkets) – again, a full range of meats including excellent chicken, and excellent animal welfare standards – they even have their own slaughterhouse on the farm so no live transport of animals. No connection to either company I hasten to add, I just believe in rewarding good products and good ethical standards with personal recommendations!

    2. They could be different breeds… you’ll have to ask both farmers what breeds they are raising.

  11. I have been a regular reader of MDA for about eight months now and, thanks to you Mark, I am now a regular visitor to the local Farmer’s Markets in my area.

    I have built a relationship with several local farmers, one where I buy grass fed beef and the other pasture raised chicken and eggs.

    Just recently I visited the farm where the chickens I buy are raised and saw for myself how they are cared for and processed.

    Mark, you’ve done a great job explaining the health benefits of eating paleo and it has definitely changed my life for the better. I also think its very important to support local farming and it gives me great piece of mind knowing where the food on my table comes from.

  12. Such a helpful post Marc… thank you! Do you (or anyone) know of any farms in the Orange County area where I could buy pastured chicken?
    Also, I hope that you do a similar post on fish!

  13. Newbie Question:

    I just bought my very first organic/free-range/pasture-raised/free of soy (and all that good stuff) chicken from the farmer’s market.

    Would it be okay to eat parts of it raw?
    To be specific I am trying to eat raw cartilage / parts of soft bone to heal my own joints and gain bone density from it…would eating it raw be more beneficial than cooking it into something my body doesn’t recognize?

    I don’t like bone broths because the heat boils nutrients into toxins and I can definately feel the impact of it. Or it might just be my very old Teflon coated pots… I also don’t like consuming lab produced glucosamine.

    I heard raw bird type animals are best to heal joints, build strong ligaments and cartilage.

    Any help is appreciated.

  14. Thanks Mark, great post! I am still trying to get my own little pasture fed chicken farm going 🙂

  15. Great writeup Mark, thanks 🙂

    At the moment I can’t afford the top grades regularly, but I’m working towards it. Now armed with the knowledge!

  16. Check your local laws for the city you live in but most places allow you to raise up to 4 chickens if you have any size of yard. Just don’t get roosters or your neighbors will be angry.
    I’ve got my kids raising Buff Orpingtons which give us a few eggs a day and we rotate through them every couple of weeks by ordering new chicks once a month and splitting the order amongst 4-5 friends that all do the same thing.
    All the chickens are outdoors in the backyard all day long and can eat whatever they find plus are fed grain/grass pellets to supplement their diet.
    The birds have much more flavor then the commercial birds but aren’t as plump and take between 3-5 months to get to eating size instead of 8-10 weeks like the commercial.

    It’s easier then you think.

    1. Not only might your neighbors get angry, but roosters are often illegal in places where hens are not, so you get get fined and have birds seized. 🙂

  17. I just bought my first chickens from the farmer where I get my eggs. His eggs are fabulous but I found the chickens to be tough, stringy and sparse on the meat. I’ve still got 4 sitting in my freezer I can’t bring myself to spend time cooking. Anything I can do to salvage these birds? They had access to large caged areas, bugs, grasses and were supplemented with grain.

    1. They were probably butchered too old or they were a breed that is great for egg production but not meat. I had an assortment of chickens and found that one particular breed has to be butchered very young for the meat to be good. I tried to cook them in the pressure cooker with some organic broth and it still didn’t help much. I ended up feeding them to my dogs so at least they didn’t get wasted and my dogs didn’t seem to mind the stringy tough meat at all.

    2. The more chickens are able to run around, the tougher they will get. All that muscle fiber! Anyway, aging them might help. Defrost and let them sit in the fridge for about 3 days. Give them the sniff test every day, but I’ve aged ours in the fridge for over a week with no hint of spoilage. That’s the difference between really fresh and store bought!

      Also, in order to make tough chicken more edible simmer it in a large pot with water to cover. After about an hour (could be more depending upon the age of the bird, but 1 hr is min.) remove from the water and let cool. Remove the meat from the bones and chop it AGAINST the grain. Put the bones and other stuff back in the water and make some gorgeous stock.

    3. Heritage breeds and layers don’t have as much meat as we’re used to on chickens and it’s a different texture. You need to know whether you have young males, birds raised specifically for meat or spent hens. If your grower hatches his own chicks and markets the cockerels, they are less meaty and more chewy than typical meat birds, but can be cooked in typical ways… braising, roasting, frying. If you have spent hens – laying birds past their prime, then you indeed have a tough, thin and chewy carcass. Crock pot, long braising or pressure cooker will bring out an unbelievably rich broth, but the meat will be best cooked low and slow and sliced across the grain – think soups, taco meat etc. Don’t expect a laying hen to eat like a grocery store meat chicken. She’s already given all she has in the form of eggs. But if you’ll be patient and coax a broth from her bones, you’ll be richly rewarded.

  18. The thing about “free range” chickens too, is that the type of chickens being raised for meat in this country don’t care to range anywhere. We have raised the Cornish X type “meat” chickens and they have been bred to be sedentary and to eat constantly. Ours had full access to a large yard full of bugs and weeds and grass and they had no interest in it once they were more than 2 weeks old. We’ve decided now to raise our the same breed as our laying hens, which are supposed to be a dual purpose breed anyway, for meat as well as eggs. It will be a little more expensive and take a little longer but I think the benefits will outweigh those costs.

    Also, on raising chickens in town- roosters are the only birds that actually crow but hens can get really noisy. Whenever one of them lays an egg they all have to talk about it for 5-15 minutes. Loudly. Your neighbors could get mad about that too 🙂

  19. I used successfully–we now have a great relationship with 2 sisters who have a farm just north of our town. We get eggs, chicken, turkey and will try duck and goose this year too. My grand kids thought it was way cool when we got goose eggs at our last visit to the farm (where we can see the birds running around pecking the ground!). We made an omelet from 2 eggs when we got home which were really good and fed all four of us since goose eggs are so big!It is a good expereince for the kids to see where food should come from. There is also a berry picking farm close to the poultry farm and we all love to do that. We get most of our vegetables from the FArmers markets but go to the farm for meat and chicken. And also for Kimberlie– we have found sometimes the chickens are tougher and sometimes they are really tender–it really varies when they are truly free range and the time of year. We usually slowly roast them at a low temp for a long time for more tender meat. You might try that for the tough birds left in your freezer. Soup is always a good option for tough birds too.

  20. In the city areas near my house, both roosters and hens are illegal. I think it is this way through much of California. Sometimes you can get away with hens if your near neighbors do not complain. (ducks maintained as pets are illegal as well)

    As for the ‘free range’ label, local butchers here have told me it is a useless label. They say the chickens are raised in the same conditions as other chickens and then after they are partially grown, they are given access to the outside for a short time, but since they are not used to going outside and so are ‘chicken’ (scuz the pun), they never go out. Therefore, the conditions they are raised in are typically no different than nonfreerange chickens. I would not pay an extra penny for the free range label unless I had personally inspected the living conditions myself. The label itself is just a scam most of the time.

    Same goes for ‘grass fed’ and beef. Cows can and often are grass fed at first but later sent to the corn feed lot to fatten up and ‘finish’, and they can still bare the label of ‘grass fed.’ But by the time they left the corn feed lot, all the benefits of the grass they ate long ago are long gone. Cattle need to be grass fed for their entire lifespan in order for us consumers to benefit. SOme of these labeling scams are visciously sneaky.

    1. That’s why it is so important to look for “grass-fed and grass-finished” beef. The labels are very sneaky! Go straight to the farm where you can see it for yourself and get to know the farmer.

  21. Chickens are not natural vegetarians. They’re scavengers and they’ll eat meat if they can get it. Ground up animal parts in their food shouldn’t be a problem, and should make them healthier than just feeding them grains.

    I grew up with chickens and we used to fed them food scraps (including meat). I’ve also seen chickens steal the cat’s meat (dead turkeys from a turkey farm).

    1. I’ve seen chickens run down mice and eat them. Chickens will eat anything they can catch. Such as mice, snakes, insects, frogs, but modern breeds are lazy, they won’t get 10′ from the feed trough.

    2. Chickens are carnivores (and cannibals) and I agree don’t do best on a vegetarian diet. But I certainly don’t trust ground up animal parts that would be fed to factory-farmed chickens. Given that cattle are fed chicken waste, including droppings, shavings, and feathers as “protein” I’d prefer a vegetarian diet over one with animal protein. Of course knowing your food before you eat is the only way to guarantee it’s quality. We’ll be getting chickens as soon as our portable coop is finished and I’ll happily process and eat them once they’re past their laying prime. Of course they’ll get all our food waste, vegetable and animal 🙂

  22. Kimberlie, we raise chickens at my house and eat the eggs. Our chickens are not the usual kind grown for eating though. I don’t know if it is because of this, but our chickens are typically thin/trim and the meat is tough. The trick for such is to sloooooww cook the meat like in a crock pot all day. Find a chicken recipe that entails all day with cooking bones and all to best bring out the nutrients in the bone as well as to soften the meat. Marinating with something acidic can also help break down those tough fibers. Wild game is often much much tougher than what we are accustomed to eating and also has more flavor and is a darker meat. Wild animals move around a lot and exercise instead of being forced to stand still and being force fed fattening foods. Therefore, unless you get a young succulent one, you will want to change your cooking methods and use tenderizing methods like grinding, mechanical pounding, marinating, and slow cooking. In the old days, these methods were probably invented because they were once very much needed!

  23. Hi, great post, I am from Australia and I have been buying organic chicken when i can and have found the taste and just the whole structure of the chicken very different. Is it my imagination or does anyone find they can smell or taste bleach in “non-organic chicken pieces”. I am sure I can smell it and when i tell people they look at me strangely!!Last week I purchased some organic drumsticks and there seemed to be so much more meat on the drumstick and the bone was also longer. So would love to know if anyone else has noticed this. Cheers from down under. Also have been paleo for a few months now and had a cheat day on the weekend and was saying to my family that I felt my heart was doing acrobatics! Interesting!

    1. I noticed that the Buff Orpington chickens that we butcher from our home flock have very long leg bones. Much longer than supermarket birds which are Cornish x Rock. Anyway, it depends on the breed.

      Can’t say I smelled bleach on storebought chicken, but I know they do dip them in a disinfecting vat, ewww!

      If you overindulge in carbs, after being low-carb for a while, you can get heart-racing episodes. Be careful with that!

    2. Hi! all, I am in Australia and I was just wanting to know if anyone knows of any soy free fed chicken’s hear like the one’s avaliable in the U.S??????

  24. Hi Lis, I’m also in Australia. Yes, I know exactly what you mean!!! I thought I was the only one who thought non-organic chicken smelt/tasted that way 🙂 I have been paleo and completely organic now for about 4 months and loving it. It is strange when I break the diet though. I have also noticed how quickly certain things can affect me now.

    1. Hi Angelina, Yes its amazing the benefits from paleo! You know I just feel the best i ever have and its interesting how condemning others can be when they have never tried it. I am constantly being told how my diet cannot possibly be healthy…Yet I no longer feel tired, I sleep like an angel, and after some gruelling workouts no muscle soreness. I also noticed last weekend when I went abit wayward i had severe night sweats. It was awful! Anyway great to hear from you! I am on the sunshine coast, cheers!

      1. Lis/Angelina–you may very well be correct. Not sure what the processing standard is in Oz, but in the US, the large scale chicken processing usually involves soaking the mechanically defeathered and gutted birds in a huge communal ice water bath. This usually contains chlorine to kill the bacteria from fecal residue that is inevitable in the way those birds are processed. The meat absorbs some of that chlorinated, disinfected chicken feces soup. If the label mentions “retained water”, you can guarantee that’s how they were processed. That’s why “air chilled” is another thing to look for on the label (although that can also be misleading). Smart Chicken is one brand. their website contains more info about chicken processing.

  25. Here in Northern Calif Bay Area I get my pastured chickens and eggs at the Campbell Farmers Market.
    I wouldn’t mind “taking out” some of the local waterfowl near my work in Redwood Shores to add to my poultry eats.

  26. I used to buy ‘organic’ from the store but soon found out it just means they fed the chicken organic soybeans.

    They’re plump, fat, full of some kind of water, have weak joints and short bones.

    I just bought my very first true pasture raised, naturally fed with bugs and grasses etc, free of soy chicken and let me tell you it looks nothing like a normal store bought organic chicken.
    The joints were hard, strong and huge, the bones were very long and thick and quite hard to break. It looked more like a small Raptor carcass than anything else. The drumsticks were very long and lean. This chicken didn’t have a gram of fat on it, i’d go as far as calling it an athletic chicken! This chicken had a LOT of exercise and a very healthy diet to get this lean, skinny, strong and tall.

  27. We raise our own and they are slightly tougher because they run around in a small grassy pen outside every day. But the meat is more nutritious and the chickens provide us entertainment during their short, happy lives.

  28. I love this post Mark…exactly what i’ve been searching for…for the past week. Has anyone heard about They are an organic farm in Minnesota that will ship orders throughout the US. Anyway…my question is has anyone heard of cocofeed as the main component of the chickens’/turkeys’ diet. Grassfed traditions feeds all of their poultry cocofeed as well as a pastured diet…I have not purhased any poultry from them yet but I am planning on it.

  29. Great post. More of these!! They help the confused primal shopper!

  30. Another suggestion, depending on what part of the country you live in — ask at an Amish farm, they definitely will have eggs but may have poultry, raw milk, and other goods at certain times of year.

  31. I am still not clear on one thing: If I am shopping a local farm, and the chickens are truly free range BUT they are supplemented with feed (which as Mark’s post states would end up like 80% of their diet) which is from a local granary which takes in locally grown grain which is NOT labeled as anything: it’s not “organic” and the granary doesn’t ask questions of those grain growers. So, even if willing to give up the “Organic” label, I’m still hesitant about the question of GMO grains fed to the chickens. Is GMO a lesser or greater problem than the pesticides/herbicides in the grain? If I’m already paying the local price in chickens, should I just swallow the pill and pay extra for someone who will source “Organic” grains or at least something known to be GMO-free? So, to clarify, I’m asking for another option to be added to the list. #1 assumes that the local pastured birds will be fed Organic. But what if we are talking about a pastured bird that is fed GMO or conventional grains. I hope the question makes sense.

    1. I talked to 2 different local farmers and here is the difference:

      #1 Farmer feeds: Chicken feed is labelled ‘organic’ and contains soybeans. Soybeans in the USA are 99% GMO and not truly organic. Also soybeans given to chicken does to them what grains do to cattle.
      The chicken I bought was small but plump with a small amount of fat, with short weak bones.

      #2 Farmer feeds: Outdoor, pasture raised, walking on a field that just had cattle removed and the chicken are able to go through the cow dung for bugs and maggots. His cows (cattle) are 100% grass-fed/finished without growth hormones, antibiotics, … Supplemented with grains during the colder months WITHOUT Soy.
      The chicken I bought was lean, slender, skinny but very tall, very long bones, very strong bones and joints, HUGE long wings and legs. No fat, not plump at all, the meat was very dense and nutritious. Joints were hard to break to get to the tough cartilage. Even the cartilage was stuck on that bone and tough to get off compared to the #1 Farm chicken.

      #1 Farmer is labelled ‘organic’.
      #2 Farmer doesn’t have the organic label but goes above and beyond organic.

      Organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy. You could be swallowing a sick chicken with high amount of traces of soy in its meat.

  32. For those raising their own chickens, consider giving them most of their feed in the form of sprouted wheat. This is a simple thing to do…just add a stone to the bottom of a clay pot (to keep the grain from pouring out the hole), pour in grain, use a garden hose to wet down 2-3 times a day. Use as many pots as necessary. It takes 3-5 days to get the grain to a sprouted condition, then just take the mass and throw it into the chicken’s feeding area. They will go after it like crazy…if you carry it into their pen they’ll actually swarm you. My father always told the story of buying a bunch of chicks and feeding them that way, and then showing them to the farmer he bought them from, and the farmer not believing they were his, they had grown so fast.

  33. I buy a Kosher brand called Empire when I can’t get or can’t afford organic. I buy it at Trader Joes but I know it is available online from Empire as well. It tastes much better than any other brand I’ve tried. I mean, it has flavor! Unlike most conventional chicken. I don’t know all the details about Kosher methods but I’m certain it’s at least vegetarian fed. Also the slaughter methods are humane. In addition, there is a lot of care taken in the handling with regards to bacterial contamination, etc so I feel pretty confident in my choice.

    1. I know this is way after the fact, but I gotta tell you that kosher (and certainly Empire brand) is no such thing as what you describe it. You aren’t and shouldn’t be certain their chickens are vegetarian fed: not only do the laws of keeping kosher not require it, kosher meat purveyors follow the letter of Jewish law but are otherwise as unethical as any meat processing companies out there. The only thing that is required for a chicken to be kosher is that it was slaughtered in a certain manner (slitting the neck using a very sharp knife, which is the most painless way to kill the chicken) and that it was salted and soaked in water for several days to remove all traces of blood. I used to keep kosher and still do at Passover time. Without fail, the chicken is very poorly butchered and still covered with feathers and quills when you buy it, even though it’s probably 50% more expensive than other conventionally raised chicken.

  34. We are new to the primal life style, we live in Utah, anyone Know where to get good chicken, I been looking for almost two weeks , but can’t find it yet! help please, thanks

    1. Homestead Natural Foods

      We live in southern Idaho about 2 hours away from Utah. This is where I get my chicken from because they do NOT feed soy.
      You might find others (within your area)but I could almost guarantee that they feed soy.
      I talk to one of the owners of Homestead Natural Foods every Saturday and he knows all about what and whatnot to feed to animals to bring the healthiest, most nutritious meats on the table.

      Don’t worry about not finding the ‘organic’ label anywhere, they go above and beyond organic and he knows the label doesn’t mean s*&^.

      They even go to the butcher with the cattle and extra cattle that won’t get slaughtered to make sure nothing gets abused or mistreated and the cattle stays calm the entire way. They even give them time to calm down for a day or two outside on a pasture by the butcher. They sometimes even do the kill job right on the pasture so the animal won’t see what’s coming…

      Even dogs that are euthanized at a vets clinic don’t get that much care!

      I only buy my meats from Homestead Natural, they really put in 110%.

  35. My local Kroger grocery giant sells Amish chicken – it’s a little cheaper than organic from Trader Joe’s and has good consistency/flavor – here is what the website says:

    Miller Poultry Chicken Facts and helpful information

    Our chicks are hatched at our own hatchery and placed primarily on Amish family farms. The birds are raised inside naturally ventilated, curtain sided, houses and are free to roam on open floors. They are fed an all-vegetable, drug free diet and are hormone and antibiotic free.

    Antibiotic free -our chickens are raised on all vegetable feed that is ground at our feed mill from corn and soybeans. No antibiotics are added. Labels can be confusing – with terms like “free-range” on the label it does not mean that it is antibiotic free. There is no requirement that free-range chickens be antibiotic free.

    All Vegetable fed – The feed is a mixture of corn, soybeans, minerals, salt and vitamins that is mixed at our own feed mill and there is no animal by products, animal fats or coloring added, never.

    Are Miller Poultry chickens “free-range”? – Miller Poultry chickens are raised primarily by Amish families in smaller flocks. While they are free to roam within the chicken house, they are not “free-range” for several reasons. Free-range chickens are often found outdoors, where they are challenged by weather, disease and the risk of airborne contaminates. Baby chickens need to be warm and dry during the first two weeks of their life and could not survive the elements.. Also older chickens would be under extreme stress in temperatures colder or warmer than ideal with our midwestern weather, which could lead to extreme stress or even cause death. Miller chickens are raised in a stress-free environment where they have access to fresh water and feed with natural light and ventilation and are free to roam within the chicken house on open floors. The chickens are cared for by peace loving Amish families.

  36. In my opinion, the best option is to stop buying chicken right now. And try eating chicken only if you are in a farm or if you know exactly where the chicken come from.

    We are not going to die if we don eat chicken for a while.

    I already stop eating any animal food. I hope the situation could be fixed in the future and I could again enjoy a good and healthy chicken meal.

  37. Great info thanks! I always try to pick free range but your article was very helpful to let us know choices that are even better!

  38. For years I’ve eaten the low-price chicken due to its economical suitability for my modest pocket (I’m a uni-arch student) believing that it was good for me since it (on the papper at least) is such a nutritios, high fat/protein – low carb source of calories. Oh was I mistaken, I’ve had a notably much harder time dropping weight whilst ingesting large quantities of this estrogen packed (anti)food. Ever since I learnt that chickens are commonly fed pro-inflammatory, richly phytoestrogenic foods such as soybeans, other legumes and grains I’ve started contact each producer personally, and believe me, ALL are fed soybeans to various extent (30-50% of the chickens total daily caloric intake comes from it) sadly.

    So unless you know the source for the chickens upbringing personally, I don’t recommend anyone to ever eat chicken again. The same unfortunately goes for pork as well. Here in Europe soybeans have become really popular as a livestock staple-food since it makes the animals gain weight mainly in the form of fat and water ridiculously fast, which makes the producers earn money faster since they wont have to pay for as much food for the animals before it’s slaughter ready.


    With sincere regards from Sweden / V.

    1. Yes, it’s the same here. Even the organic Farmers at the Farmer’s Market here feed the chicken soybeans.
      And when I told them they asked me ” What’s wrong with soybeans?” They had NO clue and thought all this time their chicken are healthy.

      I now found a farmer who’s actually informed and raises his chicken soy free, the chicken looks completely different from soy-fed chicken.

      He lets his chicken just wander around after the cows to get the bugs out of the dung and catch flies, etc…
      It costs him nothing to raise chicken.

  39. Thankfully we are starting to have more farmer’s markets here in Alaska, however they usually only go on in the short summers…….

  40. is a website/blog by Shannon Hayes, one of the best sustainable farmers I know. She is also the author of three grand books: THE GRASSFED GOURMET, THE FARMER AND THE GRILL, and RADICAL HOMEMAKERS. She has a great article on pasture-raised chickens on her website!

  41. I am fearful of visiting the local chicken ranch due to the chance of a chicken stampede with my being unable to escape.

    Death by stampeding chickens, pummeled and crushed under their trampling feet would be a horrid death.

  42. We just ordered organic, pastured, soy-free chicken online from Tropical Traditions. They are also given coco-feed (coconut). I’ll let everyone know how they turned out once they arrive.

    1. I am wondering how you found the soy-free chicken from Tropical Traditions. I have been eating Bell and Evans air chilled thinking I was doing the right thing and then find they are fed soy…

  43. Great weblog here! Also your web site loads up fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate hyperlink in your host? I desire my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  44. I have to agree, the ‘free range’ label really does not tell anything about the living conditions of the chickens. I used to believe the farmers were honest, however after watching some videos and reading some articles, that has totally changed for me

  45. Thank you! I’ve been looking for a comprehensive post on buying chicken. We have a great grass-fed beef/pork source, but haven’t been able to find pastured poultry. Now I will be more informed at the grocery store!

  46. Thank you for the info in this article. Some of it is not relevant to me in Australia but I’ve found a supplier at the monthly Sydney farmers market that provides free-range chickens and hand-reared ducks that actually have some flavour … the flavour of chicken that I recall from when I was young and eating chicken was a treat.

  47. Mark, there’s a lot more discussion in the comments about soy/no soy than in your article. You listed it as one of the sub-par items in the intro to your piece, but then it’s included in the 20% feed of the pasture-raised animals which you say is your primary choice. Since the chickens need protein, and the pastured-poultry farmers don’t dare do the animal-byproduct thing, so roasted soybeans have to be the “next best”, right?

    My family owns/operates a pastured poultry farm in the suburbs of Washington, DC, and we’re finding people are huge fans (mistakenly) of the “vegetarian-fed” and “free-range” labels, etc. It’s heartbreaking to see the half-way educated!

    So what’s your stance on the whole soy thing?

  48. Thank you for the breakdown. I located a farm nearby that has pastured chicken. It is quite expensive, and the farmer use chicken feed that contains soy and corn. What are your thoughts on that? I can’t seem to find a farmer that doesn’t use one or both and its left me not eating chicken at all.

  49. Looking for locations for grass fed here in NH, chickens and eggs, meat….etc.

  50. I have the option of organic chicken from Aldi’s Grocery store or pastured chicken from my local farmer. His feed is not labeled non GMO so probably is GMO feed but he specifically chose it because it doesn’t just layer fat and has probiotics which help the health of the chicken. Which choice would you make?

  51. I’m trying to figure out whether D’Artagnan chickens use arsenic in their feed. I can’t find anything on this. Do you know?

  52. have had zero luck finding soy free. organic. free range chicken eggs! PLEASE help.

    Yes, I went on “wild…” no organic chicken eggs that are free range.